Monday, October 16, 2006

Toronto and Niagara - Sunday

The final day of our weekend-trip north of the border. We got up a little earlier today and decided to goto Tim Hortons for breakfast. The hotel breakfast was excellent, but also about $15, so Timmies is a bit cheaper and just as nice. Hey, I'm still Dutch... First action point of the day was to look after the needs of Might Mouse (my car). He was a bit thirsty and a bit dirty. That was easily fixed and we went on our way to Timmies.

We ened-up at the Tim Hortons on the QEW and Winston Churchill Blvd (pretty much driving right by Joel and Carolyns place...) and after some good bagels, coffee and some cookies and timbits for the road we took off towards Niagara.

The drive was an easy hour and after the two skyways (Burlington and St. Catherines) we headed for Niagara-on-the-Lake. After about 5 kilometer we stopped at a vineyard that was still open, called Chateau des Charmes. Beautiful grounds and an impressive old-looking new builing in Chateau-style (...) presented itself.

Inside we tried to get onto the tour, but they were already in the middle of it and since my French is not good enough to play translator we opted for the wine-tasting (at 11am !!) and I ended-up buying a nice Cabernet. So if anybody is interested, just drop by so we can share a glass (but don't wait too long...)

From the Chateau we headed for Queenston and the Niagara Parkway. We made numerous stops along the way; at a scenic lookout overlooking the (lower) Niagara river, at the flower clock and at the Whirlpool Rapids. Sorry Dad, but I think I just made the shot you were hoping to make last year...

Once in Niagara Falls we drove along the river seeing the Falls and looked for a good spot to park. The parking at the river turned out to be $12 dollars so alternative arrangements were thought up. I remembered where I stayed with Mom and Dad two blocks after that Days Inn hotel there was the Hockey Arena with free parking. Only 1 mile away and that just saved us $12.

We had the distinct pleasure of walking through Clifton HIll, which is absolute madness. Weird contraptions that somehow have absolutely nothing to do with the Falls, but hey, it brings in more people so... We walked to the river and took some photos. We decided not to walk all the way to the Horseshoe Falls and after using the zoom on the camera we turned around heading back towards the car.

On Clifton Hill walking back one of the most unbelievable things happened. We ran into the same Dutch couple we met on Saturday on top of the CN Tower!!! What are the changes of that? Especially since it wasn't exactly a slow day on either of the two days... We just said hello and continued on.

Back at the car we grabbed some timbits and cookies and headed back onto the Parkway towards Buffalo. After about 10 minutes we started to see the snow appearing and more and more and bigger and bigger branches that snapped during the snowstorm of Thrusday. All along the Parkway residents were cleaning up their yards and driveways. That must have been one pretty nasty storm... Especially since in Niagara Falls there wasn't any evidence of even the smallest branch or snow flake.

One reason we drove down to Buffalo was because the Rainbow (border) bridge in Niagara Falls was completely full and traffic wasn't moving so I opted for The Peace Bridge. Turned out to be a good decision since the bridge was clear and we only waited for maybe 10 mintues before it was our turn. Another easy crossing later we were back in the States and on our way to Cleveland.

Like in Niagara Falls, on the main highways there wasn't a single sign of the storm anymore. Later we found out that I-90 re-openeed late on Friday so they have had two days to clear everything out.

A good 2.5 hrs later we had completed the Lake Erie Circle Tour and were back in Cleveland. Tired, but fulfilled by a good trip I dropped Kaushal off at this car and went home where the task of putting up the pictures was awaiting.

Since that was the biggest time consumer (typing these three posts was a little quicker) I opted to get that out of the way first. I really like that now, since I'm now gonna do absolutely nothing but getting some food and watching some shows on TV.

Relaxation time...

Toronto and Niagara - Saturday

Saturday we slept in a bit since breakfast was untill 10.30am. The hotel had an excellent breakfast. Very good hash-browns, bacon, eggs, sausages, but also croissants, serial and bread. Accompanied by excellent coffee and fresh OJ we had a very good start of the day.

The plan was to drive from the hotel to Yorkdale Shopping Centre, park the car and take the subway to downtown Toronto. This time the plan worked, or in the words of the unforgettable Colonel Hannibal Smith (A-team) 'I love it when a plan comes together...'.

We got the day-passes and took the first train to Union Station. First stop: CN Tower. What else? So we took the Skyway and at the tower bought the tickets to go up. Piece of advice, don't take the experience, just the observation deck and (optionally) the Skypod. Use Wikipedia to read up on the story of the CN Tower and you save yourself some nice dollars.

The ride up is quick (at 15mph / 22km/u) and gets you to 350m / 1100ft / 113 stories) where the observation deck is located. It holds a number of things. Among others, a restaurant with an astonishing view, plenty of look-out oppertunities and a glass floor. Especially the latter is an 'interesting' experience for those of us who have never been on it.

During the ride-up I thought I spotted a Dutch couple, but didn't get a change to talk to them. While taking some shots from around the observation deck I ran into the male-part of the couple and talked to him for a bit. They were doing a North America tour and already visiited NY, Boston, Montreal and Ottawa. We talked some more on things to do in Toronto and said our goodbyes.

After the talk I had a voice mail from Joel. We was calling to see what the plans were to meet-up for dinner. We settled on the Old Spaghetti Factory (we have a bit of history there - not to be disclosed here...) around 5pm since the Leafs were playing the Flames at 7pm (that's the NHL ice-hockey teams Toronto Maple Leafs vs. the Calgary Flames for those outside the Americas) and they all like to get a bite to eat before the game.

During that call Joel mentioned how cool it would for me to meet some fellow Dutchies on top of the tower. Well, he hit the nail on the head there. On the other hand, you can find Dutchies in northern New Hampshire on a mountain pass in the middle of May, so meeting a few on the main tourist trap in Southern Ontario wasn't that much of a strech...;-)

The views where amazingly clear and by far the best I've ever encoutered. We even had a very cool view on a strom rolling-in from the West (see the photo-link, just click on the blog-title). It turned-out to be a nifty rain-strom and we decided to let it run its course and watch it go by from within the observation deck.

Being a tourist-trap they smartly have the elevator down end in the middle of the gift-shop. All kinds of interesting looking contraptions can be found there. Some actually useful, other absolutely not, but almost all a bit overpriced. I find it a sport to find a useful, normally priced item and this time I acutally found something.

The tour of 'le tour CN' completed we headed for downtown Toronto and were looking for one of those Tour Busses that show you the major things in 2 hours. There was one directly on Front and John street. However, the booth was there, but no agent. We called the number and a friendly voice told us the agent was coming any minute. After about 15mins still no agent, so we decided to skip it and fall back on plan B - just do most of the items on foot.

About 2 mintues later the agent came running up, but since the tour wouldn't start until 3pm and took 'at least' 2 hours it would interfere with our dinner plans, so we decided to continue on foot. Since walking takes energy we stopped at Tim Hortons to get bagels and Hot Chocolate. I called dad for a bit and while talking to him it started to hail. OK, plan C.

Plan C: this plan uses one of Torontos nice features, the underground PATH-system that basically connects all the major downtown buildings and sights including the Eaton Centre, City Hall and some of the Subway stations. We entered at Union Station and exited at City Hall. We then continued our tour above ground to the Eaton Centre and stopped/shopped for a bit at Indigo bookstore.

Walking through the Bay (depaartment store of the Hudson Bay Company) we exited at Queen street and walked on Yonge Street heading towards the Esplanade where the Old Speghetti Factory was located. We veered off a bit to Old Town to get some perspective before heading to one of the must-see items if you want a taste of true Canadiana, the Hockey Hall of Fame in BCE Place. We took some interesting pictures there, including a few shots of a small World Press Photo exhibition (co-sponsered by two Dutch firms... go figure).

Since it was rapidly approaching 5pm we headed towards the Old Spaghetti Factory and put our name on the list since there was about a 40 minute wait. We headed to the bar to have a drink while waiting and it turned-out that Joel and Carolyn where already there for a few minutes and were quite a few place higher on the list already. So the change was made and after about 5 mintues our table was ready.

Since it was the 'Spaghetti Factory' we had to get sonme of that. While waiting for our order they brought some delicious bread and the garden salad is also a nice appetizer (oh.. don't go for the upgrade to a Ceasar - it's huge and the main course is more then enough...). The spaghetti was awesome and over and after dinner we had some delightful converstaion on about anything you can think of. As a desert we ordered some Spumonti, a small bowl of ice that is NOT on the menu so remember to ask for it the next time you're there.

Since Joel is a big hockey fan he had it in his mind to see what the scallopers would want for tickets once the game was started. He was looking for anything under $20. Yeah right!! Turned out the cheapest ones where about $100. Not much over the regular price, but steep for a game already in progress. No surprise, but still... So we decided to go watch it in a bar. Well, where is a sports-bar when you need one...

This was the start of an interesting adaventure. We decided to go somewhere closer to the Hotel (and closer to Joel and Carolyns place as well) and since they drove down we took their car. In a momentary lapse of reason (good Pink Ployd album by the way...) I forgot that my car was still at Yorkdale so we had to go back and get it. That nice little detour costed us most of the first period of the game (2-0 Leafs). While at Yorkdale we decided to quickly look for some swimware for me, but again finding something like that in the off-season when you're in a time-crux didn't really work. Well, for $50 CDN it would have, but to pay that just to take advantage of the Hotel pool-option was a bit much.

We then tried to see if there was a store at Yorkdale that showed the game, but unfortunately not a single one did. There was one on Dufferdin, but since we still had to drive we decided to drive to the same bar we had dinner last night in Sauga and we ended-up there during the intermission between the 2nd and 3rd period of the game (score now 4-3 Leafs).

We got a good spot at the bar and ordered some wings to nibble on during the game. Since it was about 3 hours after dinner already that was much appreciated. The Flames actually scored the equalizer before Leafs captain Mats Sundin - short-handed - scored his 500th goal in sudden-death overtime to clinch it for the Leafs.
Afterwards we watched the conclusion of the Montreal Canadians and the Ottawa Senators, which - sorry Sean - went to Ottawa after shoot-outs.

Now approaching about 10pm it was time to say goodbye to Joel and Carolyn and we headed back to the hotel. I watched some of the third game on Hockey Night in Canada, but fell asleep halfway through it.

A good end to an interesting day in Toronto.

Toronto and Niagara - Friday

Another week(end), another trip. This time we went north of the border to Ontario. The plan was to leave Cleveland around 4pm on Friday and to show Toronto to my fried Kaushal and to meet up with a former co-worker of ours Sean who now resides in the Toronto area. I als gave Joel and Carolyn a call to see if they would be free to meet us somewhere sometime this weekend.

However, the good Lord decided that it was time for a bout of winter on Thrusday-night and he blanketed the Buffalo, NY region under 2 feet (60cm) of snow. Normally that wouldn't be such an issue since Buffalo is used to getting some snow, but getting this much, this heavy wet snow, this early in the season was new. It left 300,000 people without power and the main Interstate (I-90) closed in a circle of about 45 miles around the city. Since the normal route from Cleveland to Toronto goes over that road and through Buffalo we were forced to take a bit of a detour taking the Detroit-Windsor border isntead.

No troubles at the border (not even had to show our passports), but the drive from Windsor to London, Ontario is soooo boring. Flat, straight and pitch-black at night. Those first 110 miles (185km) are no fun. After London things lite-up a bit and you get a sense of civilization back.

From London to Toronto is about 75 minutes and it is an easy drive. I booked a room at the Courtyard Mariott in Mississauga (Dixie and Eglington W) so once off the 401 it was only 5 minutes to find the hotel. We checked-in and called Sean we arrived. He showed-up about 30mins later just in time for us to get soemthing to eat.

It was about 10.30pm since the detour via Detroit adds 1.5 hrs to a normally pleasant 4 hr drive and neadless to see we where starving. We tried the Belfast Lounge, but their kitchen closed at 10pm so they were helpful in pointing out that basically across the street there was a bar called 'Hoodoo McFriggins' that seerves food 'till midnight. Yes!!

In the parking lot getting the car we were approached by a very frantic looking guy who was trying to get money to get his wife and kid a bus-ticket home from the border where their car had broken down. He had about $ 80 CDN on him already and was about $ 10 short. His story actually sounded credible and sincere so I gave him $ 10. Good deed for the day fulfilled.

After that we went to the other bar and indeed they served untill midnight. We got a table next to the fireplace and ordered some Ribs and Wings accompanied by some local Sleeman Honey Brown (one of my favourite beers). About 10 mins after the food that same gentleman from the parking lot entered and sat down at the bar. Somehow he spotted us and immediately left. Guess a guilty conscience got the better of him. Well, he probably left for another bar...;-)

We had some good conversation and catch-up time with Sean over some well appreciated food and drinks. It was getting late fast and a little after midnight we decided to call it a night. We drove back to the hotel, dropped Sean off at his car and went to bed for some shut-eye.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

A trip to Dayton

Last weekend it was time for another road-trip. This time the destination was the National Air Force Museum in Dayton, OH. Sunday-morning at about 7.15am we left from Beachwood. Around 9.30am we stopped at Tim Hortons in Columbus for a some breakfast since we were both starving. It was Kaushals first time to a Tim Hortons and we have 'm converted..;-) He loves it now...

About 10am we left Timmies heading for a Wafflehouse in Dayton to meet-up with Jen, Jen and Aleena. Unbenownst to each other both me and (one of the two) Jen where in the same area (both hours away from home) so we decided to have some food and fellowship. We had a great (but too short of a) time!

After seeing the girls off to Michigan again we took the backroads to the musuem and with a little help from the GPS got there pretty quick. The musuem is free and the only charges are for IMAX movies and some 'thrill-rides'. The IMAX-movies are worth the money, but forgo the other ones. Just focus on the planes and the rest of the exhibits.

One of the highlights was the Modern display with planes like the B1, B2 and F117 Stealth Fighter. You can see 'm in the pictures I put up on my own website (click here) so you can see what I mean.

Taking pictures in such a dark place was a bit challenging, but with the use of a manual mode and some steady objects to keep the camera still for long exposures (up to 5 seconds...) we got some awesome shots. Long live manual controls. Even in the digital age you can't always live without them.

After the 2nd IMAX movie we were kindly reminded that it was 6pm, closing time and we should be heading out before they'd close the gates on us.

On the way back we stopped in London for some $1.99 gas. Wow, that was a long time ago we saw that price. It sure is nice though... Including the pitstop it took us a little under 3 hours to get back to Beachwood and stopped for some food at PF Changs. Nice ending to a beautiful Sunday!