A Travellerspoint blog

May 2011

Part II - Toronto

lol O Canada

sunny 20 °C

Toronto had quite a job to do; being the follow-up act to New York City is no mean feat. But, with the CN Tower providing a commanding stage presence, it performed admirably. Where-as NYC punches you in the face with a succession of head banging rock numbers, Toronto slows things down a bit with a some soothing melodies.

From almost anywhere in the city, the awesome CN Tower dominates the skyline. After spending Monday doing roughly nothing, I decided to wander down to see it up close and personal on Tuesday. I hadn't planned on going up it, but having seen the sheer size of the thing (1,815ft/553m), I couldn't resist. The elevator fires you up to the observation level 1,136ft from the ground (equivalent to 113 stories). From here you get an impressive view of the city and beyond.

More impressive, though, is the glass floor one level down. Convincing your brain that it is perfectly safe to step forward, when nothing but 2.5" of glass separates you from plummeting to the ground, is not easy! I paid a wee bit extra to go to the Sky Pod a little higher up, which at 1,465ft was the world's highest public observation gallery until 2008. If you ever get the chance, don't bother; the view is exactly the same. I explored the city for the rest of the day* before getting a relatively early night. I was like a kid on Christmas Eve, knowing that in the morning I would be able to tick off one the top items on my 'to see' list.
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The CN Tower may be Toronto's ace in the pack, but it comes a distant second when it comes to Ontario as a whole.
The bus arrived at Niagara Falls at about 11.30am. The first glimpse I got was of the American Falls, which was pretty impressive; I then cocked my head a little to the right, and saw the famous Horseshoe Falls (Canadian side). I can't think of one single superlative that does justice to how incredible that sight is, so I'll use a bunch: breathtaking, epic, powerful, amazing, astonishing, staggering, mind-blowing... you get the point.

I didn't have much time to take it in as, along with the rest of the tour group, I was ushered along to the 'Maid of the Mist' boat ride. I'd paid an extra $16 for the experience and - unlike the Sky Pod - it was worth every penny. Sorry, cent. The boat takes you as close as is safe to the foot of the Falls, and it is from here you get the best understanding of how awe-inspiringly powerful it really is. The sight and sound of over 100,000 cubic feet of water crashing down every second, with the mist floating overhead, is one of the most fascinating experiences of my life.

After that we had a few hours to explore the rest of the area. I used this time productively, A) taking lots of pictures, B) getting a burger** and C) going up the Skylon Tower. Again, I paid extra for this. Again, it was worth it. While I wouldn't say it was a must-do, like Maid of the Mist, the 360° observation deck gives you a stunning view of the Falls from above, providing a plethora of new photo opportunities. So engrossed was I, that I failed to realise the time; I was (only slightly) late back to the bus, where I was greeted with an ironic cheer.

Leaving the Falls, we stopped off at the beautifully quaint town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, before going for a bit of wine tasting. It was amusing watching half the group act like connoisseurs, swirling and sniffing the wine before taking a delicate sip. Me? I necked it. I'd never heard of ice-wine before, let alone taste it, but I absolutely love it. Unfortunately, it is extremely expensive, as it takes roughly 30 times the number of grapes to make as regular wine. Damn my expensive taste. After the wine was tasted, it was back to Toronto. I returned to the hostel and made myself a delicious pasta dish (for the third consecutive day), just as the weather - which had been beautiful all day*** - went into thunderstorm mode. All-in-all, Wednesday was epic³.
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For my final day in Toronto, I decided to go on Trip Advisor. I'd run out of my own ideas, so consulted the people of the internet ('Internetians' as they shall be referred to from here on in). According to the Internetians, the Royal Ontario Museum was 'a great way to spend a few hours' and a 'must see'. This was in stark contrast to the opinion of an Irish couple I spoke to, who said it was 'rubbish and boring'. I figured the Irish are just an uncultured bunch, so decided to go for it. I'm with the Internetians, I thought it was brilliant, particularly the African, ancient Egyptian and ancient Greek exhibits (although the Roman one was closed, to my disappointment).

With that, my time in Toronto came to an end. Next stop: San Diego! Or at least, that was the plan.

Friday. 'One of those days' doesn't even begin to describe it. Firstly, I'd paid $20 for a shuttle bus to the airport, due to pick me up from a nearby hotel at 7.50 (my flight was at 10.30). I get there at 7.40 and wait. 8 o'clock, nothing. I wait until 20 past 8, as late as I possibly could, before giving up and getting a taxi ($55!). I was advised to get to the airport for 9 o'clock, I arrived at 9.03. I got checked in and all seemed well.

As those of you who have been to America post-9/11 will know, getting through customs is a tedious process involving fingerprinting and photographing, usually done once you arrive on US soil. Travelling from Canada (or Toronto, at least), they inexplicably carry out this process before departing. To add insult to injury, this weekend happens to be a holiday weekend, so there were 2 - TWO - officers working, with a queue of well over 100 at any given time. By the time I'd gotten through, it was gone 11, and my flight was long gone. I had two choices: wait until the following, or fly to Los Angeles and figure it out from there. I opted for the latter.

It was in the departure gate where I had my first slice of good fortune for the day. Next to me in the queue for customs had been two women - an Estonian and a Russian - who found themselves in the same predicament as myself. They decided to drive to San Diego, and asked me if I'd like to join them and split the rental, which I did. For the next three hours or so I found myself in the utterly bizarre situation of travelling in the back of a car with two complete strangers, very friendly though they were, driving down the west coast of America (which, incidentally, is a stunning route). It's fair to say I had not expected that when I'd woken up.

Around 7 hours later than originally planned, I finally arrived at my hostel, which is when the fun really started. The last three days have been pretty crazy; all shall be revealed in blog 3, so stay tuned for that!

  • * Mildly Amusing Anecdote #1: I saw an advert for a vodka that apparently "filters out inequality". Either the manufacturers don't understand the difference between 'quality' and 'equality', or it's a vodka that promotes equal rights. Either way, I like it.
  • ** Mildly Amusing Anecdote #2: The lads in front of me thought it would be funny to order their food in a British accent. The woman behind the counter was not fooled, and called them up on it. When I ordered mine, she said my attempt at a British accent was even worse. She looked quite embarrassed when I showed her my driving license.
  • *** Fun Fact #1: (Head - Hair) + Sunshine = Burnt Scalp.

Posted by Daniel.J.B 10:24 Archived in Canada Tagged san_diego airport toronto niagara_falls los_angeles canada cn_tower wine Comments (0)

The First Leg - New York

I heart NY

semi-overcast 22 °C

After an emotional farewell to the friends Thursday night, and an emotional farewell to the family Friday morning, it was finally time to leave British soil. As soon as I did, something annoying happened. When in economy class, it's fair to say you're not gifted with a huge amount of leg room. Most people are therefore gracious enough not to fully recline their seat. Most people, but never the ones sat in front of me! A bit of knee-in-the-back action, however, and she soon resumed the upright position.

One inconsiderate lady aside, the journey was pretty uneventful; I got through customs without making any jokes about having a bomb, and arrived at the hostel about 4pm. After some hardcore napping, I went to the welcoming party. I soon got talking to people from all over the globe, and got in a heated debate with an Australian girl regarding semantics. Whilst we agreed on the ambiguity of the term 'fag', I was a little underwhelmed when I realised what she meant when she said I could see her thong.

Saturday was... how can I put this eloquently? Mental. I was up at the crack of sparrows to meet Lady Liberty and visit Ellis Island, which was fascinating. I'd paid a little extra for the audio tour of both, only to forget to collect my headset at Ellis Islands, oops. Once I departed the ferry I was presented with the opportunity to purchase some intriguingly named Obama Condoms. I politely declined. Having stopped to watch a street performance from a quartet of hilarious, and very talented, break dancers, I decided to go to the Empire State Building. The bus terminal looked too confusing for my liking, so I decided to walk, despite the fact I didn't actually have any idea where it was. Turns out it's a very long way away. On my travels I stumbled upon Union Square, Ground Zero and Broadway, where I witnessed the rather elaborate union of messrs Tom and Zach. A quaint church it was not. What it was was a bright pink mobile chapel, complete with loud speakers pumping out music with far too much bass, and plenty of scantily clad dancers. It put Will and Kate's poxy efforts to shame.

Once I got to Broadway and Times Square I suspended my search for the Empire State Building in favour of M&M World. A solid choice - pretzel M&Ms are something special! I filled my boots, and decided to resume my original search. Thanks to my in-depth knowledge of the NY street track on Gran Turismo, I had a rough idea of where it was. Once there, I offended the street vendor when I told him I'd heard the SkyRide was 'crap', and just wanted to go to the observatory on the 86th floor. He begrudgingly sold me a ticket, which granted me the opportunity to queue. And queue. And queue a little more. I eventually reached the observatory, which in fairness was pretty spectacular. Having taken the stock photos, I joined the queue for the exit.
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As soon as I was back on terra firma, it began to rain, which put a slight dampner (ha!) on what had otherwise been a superb day. I got back to the hostel, had a quick shower, and got ready for the night out I'd signed up to. Having not heard another British accent up until then, I got talking to a couple of English girls, and we headed to what was without doubt the strangest club I've ever set foot in. Having been violated by the security guard (he didn't even buy me a drink), we were finally allowed entry. To say New Yorkers are a boisterous bunch would be an understatement; they're just plain mental! Us Brits are a more reserved lot, and by midnight the three of us had seen enough - too much in some cases - and jumped in a cab to Times Square. We found an Irish bar that, while not exactly quiet, was somewhat more tasteful than the club we left behind. After meeting some more interesting characters, we ended up back at the hostel about 4am.

Sunday was rather less hectic. I tagged along with Alex and Ruth - the English girls from the previous night - to visit Colombia University, Brooklyn Bridge and Bloomingdales. I then headed off to Rockefeller Center, and walked back to the hostel via Central Park (where I inevitably got lost). I then had a couple of hours to kill before heading off.

New York was a great way to start my trip. I've never been anywhere quite like it and, while 2 days was enough do pretty much everything I wanted to, I do love the place just for the sheer insanity of it all. It's certainly a place I think everyone should try and visit at some point if possible. I just hope the rest of my chosen locations live up to the high standards which have now been set.
I've just arrived at the hostel in Toronto (which is awesome) after a very long overnight bus journey. I'm probably just going to spend today recovering, explore Toronto properly tomorrow, and visit Niagara Falls on Wednesday.
I might post again from San Diego, otherwise you probably wont hear from me until New Zealand in a couple of weeks. Until then, I shall bid you farewell.

Dan.

Posted by Daniel.J.B 06:42 Archived in USA Tagged new_york times_square statue_of_liberty ellis_island broadway central_park empire_state_building Comments (2)

Nearly time!

22 hours and counting.

overcast

Well, this time tomorrow I'll be somewhere over the Atlantic, jetting towards New York. The packing is about done, just one or two last minute bits and pieces to do (go bowling, make pizza etc.).

My itinerary for the next 94 days or so is as follows:
20/05 - 22/05: New York
22/05 - 27/05: Toronto
27/05 - 31/05: San Diego
01/06 - 08/06: Tahiti
09/06 - 21/07: New Zealand (Auckland to Christchurch, via Rotorua, Taupo, National Park, Wellington, Nelson, Greymouth, Franz Josef, Queenstown, Dunedin, Lake Tekapo)
21/07 - 17/08: Australia (Brisbane to Cairns, via everything in between!)
18/07 - 21/08: Hong Kong.

I'll keep you all updated with my progress, hopefully every week or two. Hope you all have a good summer!

Dan.

Posted by Daniel.J.B 04:32 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (1)

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