09 June 2017

Toronto: An unexpectedly fun day out at the Ripley's Aquarium

It was VERY chilly on this day (about 6 degrees and a bitter wind) and we knew it wasn’t going to be very pleasant staying outdoors all day. It took us a while (naive tourists that we were) to figure out that all the shopping malls and eateries are underground! Once we’d eventually found our way down below, we were amazed at the (apparently 30km) tunnels of shops, supermarkets and eateries under the streets of Toronto. 

With an afternoon to kill, we made the decision to visit Ripley’s Aquarium of Toronto which was highly rated by Trip Advisor. This proved to be a great move as it was a fantastic experience and we all REALLY enjoyed it - the moving walkway was particularly impressive, so much so that we went around twice to view all the sharks, sawfish, turtles and stingrays floating above and around us. 

Other highlights were the tank filled with Nemo and Dory fish, the jellyfish that lit up in all kinds of colours, and the cleaner shrimp that cleaned your hands when you put them in the tank. It’s an experience I’d highly recommend for anyone visiting the city. After that we had some time to kill before our late night flight to England so we headed out to another outlet store (Mark had to exchange some shorts - they’d given him the wrong size the day before!) before checking in to the airport where it was onwards to England via a 7 hour flight on British Airways!

06 June 2017

Niagara Falls: a place like no other on Earth

Our main reason for detouring to England via Toronto was so we could make the trip to Niagara Falls - and our American Airlines flight had allowed us to add in this leg at no extra cost so it was a no brainer. The drive to Niagara takes about 1 and a half hours and is easy freeway driving the whole way. What felt weird though was that we’d come from the USA where everyone drives on the right and distances were in miles, now here we were in Canada driving on the right with kilometres and soon we’d be in England driving back on the left in miles again. Strange world we live in!

The day we were at Niagara was pretty grey but I wasn’t upset - that’s perfect waterfall photography weather - much better than bright sunshine. It also was very quiet by tourist standards - a lot of shops not even open yet for the season - I can’t begin to imagine how busy it must get in summer! We decided to do the Journey behind the Falls - which is a walk down into some tunnels behind the Falls with a lot of information explaining the history of the Falls, the geography and some other interesting facts. There are several portals where you can see the water rushing down in front of you - it’s hard to describe just how loud and powerful the Falls are from behind here. 


I really enjoyed reading facts such as:

  • the rate of erosion of the Falls used to be 1 metre per year. However with all the hydroelectric activity upstream which controls the rate of flow this has been reduced to 3 cm per year
  • various people have tried stunts over the falls - the first and most famous to survive going over the Falls was Annie Taylor who did it on her birthday in 1901. Many people have died trying to go over the Falls either intentionally or not. 
  • The most famous survivor is a 7 year old boy Roger Woodward who survived in just his bathing costume and a lifejacket after a boating accident upriver.  
  • A million bathtubs a minute empty over the Falls or 150 million litres of water a minute. The Falls are part of the Great Lakes water system which holds 1/5 of the world’s fresh water and the Falls are found between Lake Eerie and Lake Ontario.
After we’d had our fill of enjoying the view from both the more beautiful Canadian Horseshoe Falls and the American Bridal Veil Falls, we took a drive down the river to Niagara-on-the-Lake. The countryside was full of what looked like Canadian summer homes - some very grand and imposing affairs. What was also interesting was the lack of fences between properties - it was hard to tell where one finished and the next started. 

With a few hours to kill before the light show at the Falls by night, we headed to the outlet stores and wiled away a good few hours and enjoyed how cheap everything was with the Canadian dollar the same as the NZ dollar - I was particularly pleased with finding a bargain on some Salomon hiking boots - $100 vs $300 if I’d bought the same pair in NZ - roll on some more mountain hikes!

It took me so long to decide whether to buy the boots though that we only just made it back to the Falls as the clouds lit up for sunset - it was touch and go for a minute but I got down to the water’s edge just in time. We then hung around waiting for the light show to start at 8pm and when it did we were very underwhelmed. We couldn’t decide if the amount of spray going over was blocking the light or the lights weren’t working properly but for whatever reason the colours looked nothing like the images I’d seen online. I was frustrated as it felt like it was almost impossible to get a good shot. 

We then made the call to go up the Skylon Tower for a better view - this proved to be a good decision as from high above the views were much better, and suddenly the light show seemed to kick into top gear. The challenge up there though was getting the tripod balanced between all the metal fences to take a shot without the metal grilles in the way but with some careful manoeuvring I managed to fire off some shots and videos of the falls lit up with the lights of Niagara on the American side making the whole scene look like a mini Las Vegas! It was a late night home that night, with the hour and a half drive back we didn’t get to the apartment till nearly midnight!

01 June 2017

NYC to Toronto: And an amazing sunrise in Central Park for my 40th birthday

Day 6 - Birthdays - starting in Central Park and ending up in Toronto

Mark had convinced me I should go and do a sunrise in Central Park - he’d felt so safe there running that he was happy enough to let me go off on my own - catching the first subway of the day up to 72nd St, and heading straight for the lake that borders Bow Bridge. I arrived just as the streaky clouds were lighting up the sky for sunrise - perfect timing. I had such a ball here over a couple of hours wandering to my heart’s content through the same parts of the park I’d explored a few days earlier - but the big difference was NO crowds of tourists - just the odd dog walker and runner. It was a lovely warm morning too - the warmest we’d had so it was really special send-off to our time in New York.

Unfortunately our flight out of NYC was delayed a couple of hours - this time thunderstorms in Toronto - and we had to sit on a small plane (the size of a New Plymouth plane) on the tarmac waiting to see whether we would get there. 

Goodbye NYC (on the left), Hello Toronto (on the right!)

Mark had also had a bit of a scare at La Guardia when they told him his Canadian visa hadn’t processed properly but by the time we arrived in Toronto it had obviously been sorted as it wasn’t an issue when we got to Customs. 

By the time we got our car hire sorted and drove to the AirBnB we were pretty ravenous for dinner. After a bit of research (thanks Google) we decided to make our way to WVRST for our official April 10th birthday dinner - it had felt like one big long extended birthday - as people had started wishing us happy birthday right back on Sunday afternoon (April 10 NZ time) and here we were 24 hours later and it was still our birthday Canadian time! The restaurant turned out to be an awesome choice - a funky craft brewery with 25 beers on tap and about the same number of choices of artisan sausages - we tried both the elk and bison sausages and they were mouthwateringly good! 



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