September 9 Our day at Niagara Falls

The rest of the photos for this day are linked here>

Niagara (37)Gee, think I look tired here?  LOL  Guess all this fun is hard work! 

This day marked the “big day” of our Northern Tour, the visit to Niagara Falls.  While lovely, dramatic, and a sight not to be missed, I am not so sure that other parts of the trip may qualify as “big days” as well. We knew that getting through Toronto during morning rush hour was something to avoid, so set the alarm for 5am and did everything we could the night before except actually hooking up the Tracker.

Everything went well, quick morning tea in the microwave, pull in the slide, lower the levelers, start the engines, dump the tanks on the way out, and line up for hooking up the towed.  UhOh.  For some unknown reason, the four wheel drive transfer case for the Tracker refused to budge and Mo couldn’t get it into neutral.  We tried everything for a time, but with the clock ticking and traffic vibrating on the nearby 401, we decided to just go.

I drove the MoHo and Mo followed in the Tracker.  Of course, our phones were not turned on, and we hoped to keep track of each other on the highway until we were back in the United States. I must say, Garmin Girl earned every single cent of her price this morning. I negotiated the many “collectors” adjacent to the expressway, together consisting off 10 lanes of traffic, all the way through Toronto.  Even at 6am, the cars were thick, filling every lane and going close to 100km per hour.  I couldn’t see Mo very well in the backup camera since it was still dark, but sometimes she would show up in the side mirror, negotiating a lane change for me.  We traveled through town, through Burlington, following Garmin Girl as if she knew what she was doing, and thank goodness she did!

Niagara_to_WiltonGlen (4)  In just a couple of hours we were in Niagara Falls, Ontario, and found the King Waldorf RV Park on Stanley Road.  Setup was uneventful in the nearly empty park, and are reserved space was expensive but only five miles or so from the falls.  Many of the parks in this area run up to $75.00 a day, so we were happy to pay only $45.00.

What can I say about Niagara that hasn’t already been said.  The falls are truly a world wonder, and much like another world wonder, the Grand Canyon, seem a bit less so viewed from above.  Only after we took the Maid of the Mist tour to the base of the falls did I feel the true majesty of the mighty Niagara River, draining 4 of the 5 Great Lakes over these rocky cliffs. It was a thrilling moment.

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Maid of the Mist was the highlight of visiting Niagara


Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side is the more dramatic fall


Much of the Niagara experience is a calculated money making endeavor, with ticket times and lines, and people movers, a bit like Disneyland.  The Maid of the Mist, tourist attraction though it may be, is worth every bit of tourism kitsch endured.  We also saw the Niagara Fury Omnifilm, a nice effort, and toured “Behind the Falls’”, which from the Canadian side was a bit of a let down.  The rest of the day we spent walking on our own through the gardens along the canyon walls, admiring the water and watching the “Maids” make their journeys. 

September 8 Toronto

The few somewhat gloomy photos I have for this day are linked here.

Toronto (1)Glen Rouge Campground is owned by the city of Toronto, located in a linear greenbelt parkway called Rouge Park,   dissected by the Rouge River.  The grounds are well maintained, with laundry facilities on site.  These consisted of two washers, one of them broken, and two dryers, one out of service.  With more than a week of laundry collected, I decided to try to find a laundromat where I could actually get the laundry completed in something less than a full day.  Mo decided to go with me so I wouldn’t have to wander off into the city alone, and we set out to find a laundry. 

The camp hostess suggested a place a few miles west toward town on Kingston Street, which sounded reasonable, but at the early morning rush hour, Kingston Street was backed up cars in all four lanes punctuated by stop lights.  The fresh, almost antiseptically clean suburbs gave way to seedier neighborhoods and crowded apartment buildings with varying degrees of window coverings that included aluminum foil. Maybe these are the kinds of neighborhoods that actually need laundromats, since most of the fancy townhomes near the area we left behind probably had their own in home laundry facilities. 

About $12.00 Canadian, and four loads later, we emerged with clean bedding and fresh clothes.  Watching all those folks doing laundry reminded me of the days when I did diapers for three babies in laundromats, too poor to own a washer that worked.  Life is good.  Now I only go to laundromats when I am traveling.

Toronto (2) Another supposed amenity of Glen Rouge Campground is the excellent security.  Last night it was severely lacking, however, and somewhere around 2am our next door neighbor hosted two cars full of drunken party goers. They entertained us with raucous conversation, loud music, singing, and falling down sounds until the last car pulled away around seven this morning. When we reported this to the camp hostess, she made some mumblings about security, and I got the impression that maybe the security personnel may have been part of the party. Our other neighbors are just fine, sweet and just conversational enough to be fun but not intrusive, and they love the cat and dog.  We will be leaving tomorrow morning, and I am hoping that the rowdy neighbor is too worn out from last night to keep us up again tonight.

With laundry handled, we took Abby to a doggie day care and once more took the train to town for another day of exploration.  Toronto has so many interesting offerings, but the Royal Ontario Museum called me most, with the exhibition “The Warrior Emperor and China’s Terracotta Army” in residence, it was something I didn’t want to miss. The ROM, as it is affectionately known here in town, is just a little over a mile north of Union Station on University Street.  It was a great chance to walk more city streets and observe how the demographics and energy of the neighborhoods change throughout the city. 

Toronto_ROM (5) Queen’s Park is at the center of the University of Toronto campus, and has the most amazing collection of huge hardwoods, oaks, maples, and others, that I have ever seen.  In the dark shade of a dreary day, I found it impossible to capture the immensity of these trees in a photograph.  The main building of the University was as imposing as any castle I have seen anywhere, and the cosmopolitan atmosphere was impressive. 

Toronto_ROM (7)We finally found the ROM north of Queen’s Park and entered.  There was an extra fee to see the Terracotta Army, but it was well worth it. After complete immersion into Chinese history of two hundred B.C., we emerged into the rest of the museum.  Much like the Smithsonian, the sheer volume of the exhibits is overwhelming.  I decided that the only way to truly visit a museum of this stature would be slowly, a day at a time for each section.  Since we didn’t have that luxury, we wandered a bit aimlessly through the halls and rooms and stairwells.  Photos weren’t allowed, but mental images include a totem pole from British Columbia spanning all four stories of the building and a domed ceiling tiled with gold and inlay that was as intricate as any we saw in Turkey.

After all that walking and wandering, we were starving, so took advantage of what is known in Toronto as “street meat’”, the hot dog stand. Hot dog is a misnomer for what we ate today, with the juicy succulent meat sliced diagonally and roasted on an open flame right before our eyes.  The condiments included fancy colored peppers and a sweet corn relish among the usual goodies.  We sat on the steps of the ROM and watched people passing by while munching down the best hot dog I ever ate in my entire life.

Toronto_ROM (8) The Museum station of the TTC Subway was right there, and it was a quick, 4.00 jaunt to Union Station just in time to catch the express GOTRAIN to our home station at Rouge Hill.  After two days we were getting to be old hands at finding the stairs, hallways, and platforms of the transit system.

After picking up Abby from her caretakers, we desperately needed some internet time to handle business affairs, and finally found free wireless at the local coffee establishment called Second Cup.  Much like the Starbucks of the old days, they had great coffees, comfy chairs, a fireplace, and free wireless.  Time to catch up on banking and email, and try to get photos up and maybe a blog post or two at least!  By the time we left the place was full of interesting people, talking, computing, drinking and eating; definitely a hoppin’ place to be in the suburbs of Toronto on a Wednesday evening!

We plan to leave by 6 in the morning to drive to Niagara Falls and miss the worst of the Toronto traffic, so the alarm is set for 5.  The rain comes and goes, but it stopped long enough for us to get the bikes and the kayaks loaded up again and get things ready for an early departure tomorrow.


September 7 Toronto

Toronto_zoo (34) The rest of the photos for this day are here>

Moving so quickly across the landscape makes three nights in one place a true delight, so this morning was easy and relaxing.  With so much to see and do in Toronto, it is a bit daunting to decide how to spend the time we have, and the local guidebooks were full of choices.  It has been years since I visited a zoo, but I had heard that the Toronto Zoo is excellent, so that was on my list.  The other tourist site we couldn’t miss was the CN Tower. 

Sometimes traveling with Abby can provide some challenges, and on this day the zoo rules of no animals anywhere on site, including the parking lots, made things more complicated than we wanted to handle.  Since I was the one wanting to see the zoo, Mo dropped me off and went home to enjoy a quiet morning with Abby while I wandered alone through the exhibits.  It was a great time for both of us.  This zoo is well known for it’s excellent animal habitats, and was the first zoo to organize it’s displays by regions of the world.  In two hours, I didn’t have time to see it all, but two hours of steady walking felt great.

Toronto_zoo (6)The Tundra Zone is new and the resident polar bears were having great fun swimming and playing in their pools.  I know how incredibly dangerous these animals are, but watching the big guy do flips in the pool and swim on his back with his cute little belly showing was really endearing.  Another favorite was the gorilla exhibit, watching the family interactions. The baby of the group is just a year old, and his mom is every bit as busy running after him as any mom of a little one.  The story of George, the big daddy, and his heart-wrenching grief when his long term mate died just two weeks ago was riveting. The zoo felt serene and uncrowded, and the animals seemed relaxed and content.  It was a great experience.

Mo picked me up at noon, and after settling Abby into her safe crate with the air conditioner going, we left for downtown Toronto.  This city has a tremendous public transportation system, and public transport is a great way to see an unknown city in any country.  The Rouge Hill station was just a mile or so from the campground, with a big lot for parking, and the sleek, clean GOTRAIN ready to take us right downtown and back for just $5.30 each (so nice to be a senior).

Toronto_tower (24) Once downtown, we walked toward the CN Tower, sometimes visible and sometimes not.  I had the GPS with me, set to pedestrian mode, but the satellites weren’t too happy with the extremely tall buildings.  Something to note, satellite reception for a GPS isn’t very reliable in a city with skyscrapers all around. The CN Tower began as simply a reception antenna, but evolved into something much grander.  It is one of the seven man made wonders of the world, and the tallest structure.  The elevator ride itself is a wonder, and my ears were popping by the time we reached the observation deck.  There is another deck at a higher level, but that cost even more money, so we opted out of that one.  On the observation deck is the innovative “glass floor”  where you can walk out over the empty space below, on thick glass of course.  It’s a disconcerting feeling, dizzying and weird, even though the mind knows it’s solid, the eyes see nothing but hundreds of feet of space below.  The views of Toronto were magnificent, but the open portion of the observation deck was closed due to the heavy winds.

Toronto_tower (8) The Entertainment District was another area on our list, and was just a few blocks north of the Tower.  Toronto has a vibrant theater district, and we hoped to see a show while we were here.  It wasn’t to be, though, since all the good shows ended recently, and new ones aren’t scheduled to begin until next week.  The Royal Alexandria Theater was advertising a great musical of 80’s rock which sounded exciting, so it was a great disappointment to walk to the box office and be told the next show was in a week.  Ah well.  I laughed and told the agent he had saved us a ton of money.

The theater district was full of interesting people and sidewalk eating establishments, and we found a pub for a beer and sweet potato fries.  Our table right by the street offered a fascinating glimpse into city life.  By the time I finished my very good Moosehead beer, I was laughing hard at all the complexity and wonder of it.  Most people here definitely walk with a purpose, hard and fast and focused.  Almost everyone has either an IPod or a cell phone held to their ears, and the clothing can be any combination of crazy weird to slick suits.  Everyone is going in all directions, some on bikes, on skates, on skateboards, hailing taxis, jogging, walking, with a very few ambling a bit aimlessly.  I have no idea how the bikers and skaters keep from being obliterated by the crazy traffic in skinny or non existent bike lanes.

Toronto_tower (23) Walking back to the train at rush hour with the masses of humanity was fun.  These huge train stations can be a bit intimidating, but after a few misses we managed to find our way to the right platform and the right train.  At Union Station there is a wild combination of the GOTRAINs, the VIA Trains that seem to go to more distant locations, and the subway.  The signs for the platforms are all numbered the same, so you do have to know “how you are traveling”, which we didn’t at first.  I thought a train was a train, but not so.  The information person seemed to think I was a bit stupid since I really didn’t know what train I was looking for.  Gee, I don’t know, the one that goes to Rouge Hill?

Ahh city life. 

September 6 Killarney to Toronto

Killarney_to_Toronto (8) I have only a few photos of this day, and most of them are somewhat gloomy, but I did put them up on Picasa and they are linked here.

After the gorgeous day we enjoyed yesterday, this morning we woke again to gloomy rainy weather.  Deciding to skip the morning hikes in the pouring rain, we packed up the MoHo and headed for Toronto.  On the way, we happened to stop at a roadside information kiosk where the attendant told us about the Muskoga Lake Region.  She also was incredibly helpful and made phone calls for us to the Swift Kayak and Canoe Company where we planned to visit. 

On the way, we visited the charming little town of Muskoka Lake, and stopped at an area dominated by huge exposures of the Pre-Cambrian Shield. This is some of the oldest rock in the world, covering a large portion of Ontario and where much of the wealth of the province is derived.

Killarney_to_Toronto (11) Thanks to her information, we re-routed back north and through the lake district, and went to the main store selling the Swift Adirondack kayaks that I have been admiring on the internet for a time now. These kayaks are sleek and gorgeous, weighing only 34 pounds, with a cockpit that can accommodate Abby, and sealed bulkheads that will keep our gear dry.  The owner just happened to be in the store, and offered to ship to the US, saving us the 13 percent provincial tax.  It was an exciting day, and our boats will arrive in Oregon when we return after October 1st.

Even though we were traveling the beautiful lake district, with all the forests we didn’t see very much of the lakes and didn’t want to take more time to stop and visit.  It is a beautiful area, however, and I would have loved to spend more time.  The rest of the day was uneventful, as we navigated into the eastern part of the city of Toronto where we planned to camp at the city owned Glen Rouge Park.