|Toronto and Niagara 1999|
Travelogue: Toronto and Niagara 1999
By Roger W. Reini
Monday, Sept. 20: After spending a brief night at home recovering from a weekend camping trip to Iowa, I pack up the van and get ready to hit the road to Niagara. I check my e-mail while M*A*S*H is airing on FX. By 9, I'm ready to leave. Oops -- not quite yet! When I get to the end of the street, I suddenly realize that I've forgotten the receipts for my camera and video equipment. Without those, I'm risking being charged duty upon my return to the US. So I turn around and head home to recover them. Then I set out again. A few miles down the road, I realize that I've forgotten the wedding invitation. So after a stop at the Amoco station at Ford and Middlebelt, I turn around and head home to get the invitation. By this time, I'm getting a bit aggravated. Fortunately, the third departure is the charm. Rush hour is nearly over, so Detroit traffic isn't bad at all. By 10, I'm at the duty-free store at the Ambassador Bridge, seeing if I could get anything for a wedding gift. One of the purposes of my trip is to attend the wedding of a friend in Toronto. But I don't see anything there that appeals to me (I'm not that keen on giving tobacco or liquor), so I leave without getting anything. The entry into Canada goes fairly smoothly. I stop at the tourist center on Huron Church to use the facilities and to pick up some maps and literature, especially for Niagara Falls. I'm also in need of cash as well as something to settle my stomach; the two false starts had given me some stomach upset. So I go to the Devonshire Mall and pull C$200 from the money machines at the Bank of Montreal branch. Next is a visit to Shopper's Drug Mart for generic Zantac and a package of Oreo Double Stuf cookies. An aside: in Canada, the products we Americans recognize as being from Nabisco carry the Christie brand instead
That drugstore's been there a long time; the first time I went there was in 1981, when I had flown into Detroit to take a scholarship qualification exam at Michigan State. I was on the debate team in high school that year (every year, in fact), and our case that year called for the ending of the ban on cyclamates, the artificial sweetener. Now they had never been banned in Canada, so I went over to Windsor with my aunt and uncle and bought a box of cyclamates and brought them home. But I digress….
Back to the story: I stop at the Chapters bookstore for a Detroit Free Press and a National Post. By this time, it's after 11. I had thought about taking the old Highway 3 across the province; it's something of a scenic route in places. But I decide that would take too long, so I head towards the 401. This freeway has acquired a dangerous reputation lately. A few weeks ago, there was a very serious collision here that killed 7 people and injured scores of others. Farther east, 13 people had died in various accidents over the last 6 months. The road is not forgiving of error; drive off the road on the left, and you're almost immediately in the ditch in the median. But traffic is light, so I don't see much of a problem. I stop for lunch at the second service area, located between Chatham and London. Lunch is at Wendy's (it could have been at Mr. Sub or Tim Horton's). There's a man who claims he needs money to buy gas and/or a gas can. He seems sincere, so I give him a loonie (that's the name for the $1 coin, which depicts a loon on one side). There's drizzle off and on during the drive to Niagara. The radio stations change. Detroit and Windsor fade out, and Toronto and Buffalo get stronger. When I come to the intersection with the 403, I take that highway, as it will take me towards Niagara. It also takes me through Brantford, the hometown of Wayne Gretzky, who's been honored with the Wayne Gretzky Parkway. When I last took this freeway, there was a stretch between Brantford and Ancaster that was not yet open. Now it is open, so I don't have to take any detours. When I get to Hamilton, I decide to drive through town in order to avoid driving out of my way to pick up the QEW. Hamilton is a pretty large town, and it takes me a while to drive through. But I eventually get through the downtown traffic and pick up the QEW. The drive to Niagara is uneventful, and within an hour I'm at the Marriott hotel in the Fallsview area. My room is room 309. All of the rooms there have a view of the falls.
After unpacking and settling in, I decide to walk down to the falls. But I'm not carrying an umbrella, and my coat isn't really a raincoat, so I don't get very far before deciding to head back to my room. I decide to have dinner at the hotel restaurant. I'm shown to my table by a hostess who's rather cute. The food is delicious – French onion soup and prime rib – but the service is a bit slow. I spend 30 minutes waiting for my bill. And it was a fairly expensive bill: C$55 or so. Afterwards, I decide to drive to the Pen Shopping Centre in St. Catharines. Due to my unfamiliarity with the area, I miss the freeway exit and have to double back to get off. When I do, I notice that the on-ramp is closed for construction. So how am I going to get back? I figure it out by consulting a map at the bookstore. I also pick up a TV Guide, which is for next week. While walking around, I see that the Eaton's store is closing in 12 days. I don't get anything other than the TV Guide, so I leave. From the map, I learned that the street in front of the shopping center will connect with another freeway, so I take that. It goes through some back neighborhoods. Traffic is stopped at a drawbridge over the Welland Canal, so I'm held up there for a bit. But the boat passes through, the bridge lowers, and I'm back on my merry way to the hotel parking lot. I put Monday Night Football on the TV.
Tuesday Sept. 21: When I awaken, the TV's still on. I must have fallen asleep during the game. I shower and head back to the restaurant for breakfast. Their buffet looks good, so I decide to get it. The price is C$16 (over $10), which is a bit expensive for my liking. After 9, I leave the hotel for my excursion in Niagara Falls. First stop: the inclined railway, which is a short walk from the front door. I pay a dollar to ride down the hill to the falls level. Across from the lower stop is the Table Rock visitor facility, with gift shops, restaurants, etc. It's also the place to buy tickets for a Journey Behind The Falls. When you take this journey, you're given a plastic raincoat poncho, and then you ride an elevator down to the lower level. Here, in several tunnels, you can experience the power of the falls. There are two cutouts in the rock, through which you can see the water thundering down. It is loud! I have to yell in order to be heard on my video camera. One of the tunnels appears to have developed a leak (captured on the camera). Another tunnel leads you to a landing area about two-thirds of the way down from the top, where you have a close-up view of the falls. You can also see the Maid of the Mist boats as they treat their guests to a soaking experience. Speaking of the Maid of the Mist, that is my next destination. Here, too, you're given a plastic raincoat poncho, except this one is blue whereas the first one was yellow. Boats run every 15 minutes, and they're always packed. I get on the upper level, left-hand side. There's a pre-recorded commentary in English and French pointing out some of the sights. We pass close enough to the American Falls for the camera to pick up some mist, which I wipe off. As we got closer to the Canadian Falls, I take some video before deciding to put the camera away. This is a wise decision, as people and things tend to get wet down there. Before long, we're heading back to the dock. My next visit is the Hard Rock Café, located in the Casino Niagara building. I have a cheeseburger and fries with a Caesar salad. It is very good! Afterwards, I walk along the street up to the Planet Hollywood, then back down the street, past the entrance to the Rainbow Bridge (one of the bridges between the US and Canada), and up Clifton Hill. On my last visit, I walked down the hill. This time, I'm walking uphill, and it's tougher, especially on a full stomach.
Among the tourist trap attractions on Clifton Hill is a miniature golf course. I decide to play a game, my second in 72 hours (the first was in Iowa as part of the campout). I do well on the front nine but fall apart on the back nine. Still, I've improved over the Iowa game. Then I walk back to the hotel, which ends up being a lengthy walk. By 3 PM, I'm back at the hotel, where I decide to rest for an hour or so. Later, I decide to go for a drive. I take the Niagara Parkway up past the Whirlpool Gorge area to the Floral Clock. There are at least a couple of tour buses there – Asians and Germans, I believe. Then I head back down the parkway, past the falls, and head upstream towards Fort Erie and Buffalo. There are some very nice houses along the parkway. Finally, I reach Fort Erie, where I see the Peace Bridge going to Buffalo. I'm reminded of the Detroit-Windsor waterfront, though Buffalo's downtown is not right on the water like Detroit's is. It's time to head back to Niagara, so I leave the parkway and get on the QEW. A little ways up the road, I can see the Skylon and Minolta towers quite clearly, along with a cloud of mist from the falls. I'm beginning to look for gas stations, but I'm in no danger of running out. I go to the Niagara Square shopping center, which is a fairly small mall. Is there anything to eat there? Not really. I stop for gas at a 7-11 then return to the hotel. Supper ends up being junk food: some Oreos, some Cheetos and a can of Mountain Dew. I was still fairly full from lunch. I visit the Minolta Tower, which is located next to the hotel, and go up to the observation deck. The view is good, as it should be on a clear night. I use the opportunity to take some more video. When I return to my room, I watch the premiere of The West Wing on CTV, a day before its premiere in the US on NBC. Not bad.
Wednesday Sept. 22: I walk to Denny's for breakfast, thinking it'd be cheaper than the hotel. Mistake! The prices were the most expensive I'd ever seen at a Denny's. And this was in US dollars! The menu listed prices in Canadian and American amounts. I get a USA Today and read that while eating my pancakes and bacon. Back to the hotel to pack up and check out. Next stop: Toronto. So it's back on the QEW. The weather is fantastic, with hardly a cloud in the sky. It's so clear, I can see downtown Toronto off to my right. The traffic picks up as I round the bend of the lake at Hamilton. I need to kill some time, so I decide to visit the shopping area in downtown Mississauga. My first stop is the Chapters bookstore there. They have some Net terminals, so I buy some time on them and check my e-mail. I buy a book called "The Heathen's Guide to World Religions" and get a video tape biography of hockey coaching legend Don Cherry, which I'll give to my uncle as a present. Then I go to the Square One shopping center across the street, where I have lunch at the Movenpick Marchelino (little market) – a chicken Caesar salad. Then I get back on the freeways and head toward my hotel. But it's still too early to check in, so I go to yet another shopping center to kill some time: the Yorkdale SC, Dufferin and Hwy. 401. The place has expanded since my last visit; there's now a Rainforest Café there, along with Indigo Books (similar to Chapters) and new movie theaters. One store that's no longer there is Lichtman's, a smaller bookstore and newsstand. That store carried lots of out-of-town newspapers, including British newspapers from the day before. That's much faster than in Detroit. But they probably left because of the big Indigo store coming in. Oddly enough, two other bookstores, Coles and Smithbooks, are still there. The Eaton's store here is closing; they all are, as the chain filed for bankruptcy. But the building won't be empty for long, as Sears bought the store and will move out of their existing store and into this one. Finally, it's about time for me to check into the hotel. The Holiday Inn Yorkdale is located across the street from, you guessed it, the Yorkdale SC. There are two towers; I'm in the west one on the top floor, room 1244. When I go there, there is noise from renovations being done on lower floors. The room has a nice southerly view; I can see downtown and the shoreline with ease. Can't quite see Niagara Falls, though. Next on the agenda: call my friend Andrew. I'd tried twice today without success. But the third time is the charm, and we figure out what we're going to do.
Not knowing how long it'd take me to get downtown on the subway or to find a parking spot at the station, I head off around 4. Parking is free after 9:30 AM, so I drive in and find a spot. The ride into town takes about a half-hour, if that. So there I am at 4:30 with an hour to kill. I walk around for a bit, then visit the newsstand at BCE Place and pick up a copy of yesterday's Daily Telegraph. One thing I've noticed about Toronto: they get the British newspapers much more quickly than we do in Detroit. Perhaps it has something to do with being part of the British Commonwealth. Perhaps it's due to being a major city with a significant British expatriate community, which would explain why L.A. also gets them only one day late. Anyway, I get the paper and head over to Union Station to read it. There's a lot of foot traffic there. Shortly after 5:30, Andrew arrives. We head off to the Movenpick Marché for supper. I give him my wedding gifts (a London guidebook and 15 pounds of spending money) and give a few more tips for sightseeing over there. Then we walk over to the new home of Second City Toronto, 56 Blue Jays Way. This facility is nicer than their original theater on Lombard Street, which they had outgrown. We have a drink in the bar area and look at all the pictures of previous shows, many of which feature some now-famous faces. While we’re waiting, that evening’s performance of "Tony & Tina’s Wedding" ends. Finally, we’re allowed to take our seats. We’re one of the first ones there, but the house eventually fills up. The show’s pretty good. One of the funnier sketches involves a parlor game where you had to relate a suggested topic to corn. Another involves a cat that was very jealous of the women her master brought home. There is an improv session afterwards, but I am somewhat anxious to return to my hotel, so we leave. The subway ride is uneventful, and I get back to the hotel before 11.
Thursday Sept. 23: I get up around 7. The MuchMusic video awards are downtown tonight; that might explain why I couldn't get a room downtown this trip. The Today show reports that George C. Scott has died. I decide to take a drive into town to find where the church and the reception hall are for Saturday's wedding, so I'll have an idea where to go. The traffic is rather heavy, even during the 10 o'clock hour. The hall is easy to find, and I think I see the church. It turns out I don't; more on that later. I also learn that a section of street on the route from the church to the hall will be closed Saturday, so I'll need to plan an alternate route. I take Victoria Park Road north to the 401, then head to the Colossus theaters north of town on Hwy. 400 at Hwy. 7. This theater looks like a flying saucer! I'm here to see the Imax film "Encounters in the 3rd Dimension". Naturally, it's a 3D film, and a good one at that. Then I visit a nearby HMV record store and Chapters bookstore. I have lunch at a Dairy Queen, and then I visit Yorkdale briefly before returning to the hotel. Tonight, I'm going into town to see the Toronto Maple Leafs and Vancouver Canucks play an exhibition hockey game at the new Air Canada Centre. So I drive to the Wilson subway station and park the car there a little after 5, and then I take the train into town. It's back to BCE Place for a Daily Telegraph and another visit to the Marché. Tonight, I have a pasta dish.
The Air Canada Centre is a nice facility. It opened in February 1999, so this is its first full season of operation. It's connected to Union Station and the subway station there, so it's very easy to reach via public transportation. In the concourse between the station and the arena, there is an exhibit of Ford cars and trucks. Once at the arena, I find the ticket office to claim my ticket, which I had purchased via the Web. The ticket is for the upper bowl – section 321, row 16, seat 17. That's only 4 rows from the top of the section. It also happens to be at center ice. Plus, it's one of the least expensive seats in the arena. Many of the lower bowl seats go for over C$100. On the way up to my seat, I pass a special exhibit about the history of hockey in Toronto, so I stop in there for a while. It's a pretty nice exhibit. Finally, I reach my seat. It's on the north side of the arena (Front Street is at my back) facing the penalty boxes; the team benches are on this side. While waiting for the game to start, I read the Telegraph newspaper that I couldn't really read at the Marché. The game gets under way. After one period, Vancouver leads 2-0. After two, it's tied at 2. And after 3, it's tied at 3, so they go into overtime, and Toronto scores the winning goal. The fans are happy. Now it's time to leave the arena and head for the subway. I make good progress, beating most of the people there. The subway train's not crowded at all as I head back out to the suburbs. By 10:45, I'm back at the hotel, where I proceed to watch the CTV network news.
Friday Sept. 24: Yesterday, I had the full breakfast buffet in the hotel restaurant. Today, I limit myself to the continental buffet, or the cold stuff. But I have a coupon which says I get the breakfast for free, so that's not a problem. Today, I plan to go into town and pick up a Christmas gift, among other things. So I walk over from the hotel to the Yorkdale subway station. The mall stores are just opening up as I walk through; the subway station is at the farthest point east in the shopping center, as far away as you can get from the hotel. My first stop is the Lichtman's store in the Atrium on Bay, looking for a Thursday paper from England. Unfortunately, they haven't arrived yet; all they have are Wednesday's papers. I next visit the large HMV store on Yonge Street, where I get the newly released Yellow Submarine CD and a Mojo magazine with a cover story on Yellow Submarine. The store's got a good selection, but I think the superstores in London are larger. I walk over to the Eaton Centre (now there's a place which'll need a new name), visit the Coles bookstore, and have a couple of slices of pizza for lunch. Next, I take the subway out to Yonge and Eglinton, home of another Indigo bookstore. This store is complete, unlike the one at Yorkdale, whose entrance is still under construction. I get a couple of guidebooks for Montreal, a place I'd like to visit sometime, as well as a Daily Telegraph from yesterday; yes, they had arrived. There is a Lichtman's across the street, and I go there for a USA Today. I'm not lacking for reading material. I'm able to read some of it on the subway, which I take back into town. My next stop is the gift shop for the Hockey Hall of Fame, where I get another hockey-related tape for my uncle as a present. Actually, it's a 5-tape box set. It's back outside, and the weather has cleared up since this morning. So I decide to pay another visit to the CN tower. This time, I want to visit the Sky Pod, the absolute highest observation level, but after being informed that there's at least a 30-minute wait, I pass. The ground floor interior of the tower has changed substantially since my last visit; the gift shop now occupies the lowest floor completely. Before long, we go up in those glass elevators to the main viewing deck. The line for the Sky Pod seems to grow longer and longer when I'm up there. I figure I can easily come back another time on another trip, since Toronto's not that far from Detroit. I take out my video camera and shoot the sights, which include a traffic jam on the westbound Gardiner Expressway and a bicyclist pedaling down the street. I think I can even see my hotel from here. I'm not absolutely sure that it is my hotel, but it's in the right location and it's the right color, so it probably is. I go down one level, where I can go outside. There is a breeze up here, and I find it refreshing, having gotten a bit warm and sweaty walking over here. This is also the level that contains the glass floor, a four-inch thick pane of glass. The guides say it's stronger than concrete. I find it hard to stand on it, especially when looking down. But later, I walk across it while looking straight ahead, and it doesn't bug me that much. Then I decide to head back to the hotel, so it's down the elevator, through the gift shop and out the door. I look for the St. Andrew subway station, where I pick up a train to Yorkdale. By the time I get back to the hotel, I'm tired! I've done a lot of walking today. And I'm also thirsty; I get a 1.5 liter bottle of water at the gift shop, and when I open it, I drink what seems like half of it right off. I rest until dinner, when I go downstairs and order their French onion soup and some prime rib. I take advantage of another coupon and have some baked Alaska, which is excellent. Unfortunately, the meal takes too long for me to consider going to a movie that night. So I get in the car and head to the nearby Ikea store. I've bought some furniture from Ikea in the past, but all I get tonight is a pair of slippers. Back to the hotel, where I watch junior-league hockey as Toronto take on Missisauga. I also glance at the Toronto-Cleveland baseball game; Cleveland is winning.
Saturday Sept. 25: I take my time getting started this morning, trying to decide what to do, how to get the church (car or subway), etc. Do I have time to see the movie I missed last night? No, I don't, I decide. So I have lunch at Red Lobster (lobster stuffed mushrooms as an appetizer, and a shrimp platter for the main course), then proceed to Yorkdale to walk it off. Traffic turning from Dufferin onto Lawrence is horrible! In fact, traffic everywhere today is horrible! When leaving Yorkdale to head for the wedding (I had decided to drive there after all), I make a lane change to bypass a stopped car, irritating the driver coming up in the other lane. I thought I pulled out in plenty of time and gave enough warning to him. Later, a car tries to change lanes beside me – into me is more like it! But no harm is done, except I have to catch my breath after exiting the freeway. I stop for gas, then start looking for the church. I pass by where I think it is, but the name's wrong. So's the address. It's a good thing I have the invitation, so I turn around and head down the street, looking for the church. I find a large church at the correct address, but the name is wrong, and nobody's here. It turns out that the church shares its building with another church, so I am at the right location. As I wait out front, the groom's party arrives. This is a good sign, confirming that I'm at the right place. The wedding starts around an hour late; the invitation said 4, but it’s 5 when the bride walks down the aisle. The ceremony proceeds fairly smoothly, although the couple’s young daughter (around 18 months) puts up a fuss at times. But with the help of both grandmothers, things calm down. The celebration concludes, and the bride and groom are now husband and wife.
Once the wedding concludes, I head to my car and drive off to the reception hall. Using my map, I plot a route to the hall that'll bypass the street closure I'd noticed earlier in the week. However, this turned out to be a busy route. For the longest time, I'm stuck behind a streetcar. Eventually, I get to the hall. There's not much parking there, so I park up the street. The neighborhood looks fairly nice, so I think I'll be OK. The food is good. I feel somewhat out of place there, as the only person I know is the groom. But I still enjoy myself. As the evening proceeds, the room begins to fill up, reaching the point where there are more people there than who attended the wedding – or who were invited. Yes, there were gatecrashers. I don’t stay very late, as I’m heading out in the morning.
Sunday Sept. 26: It's time to head home. I pack, load up the car, and check out. There's a Sunday Toronto Star at the front desk, and I take one for the road. By 8 AM, I am on the road heading back home. I want to listen to 1050 CHUM, but they've got talk shows on, so I listen to 680News for a bit. The music's back on CHUM after a while, but then I decide I want to listen to the new Yellow Submarine CD. This CD has remixes of the songs that were in the movie, and I can definitely tell that these are not what we've been accustomed to for these many years. By the time the CD finishes, CHUM's gone out of range. When I reach London, I take the 402 to Sarnia rather than stay on the 401 to Windsor. I've never taken this route before (not its entire length, anyway). The drive is uneventful. Soon, the sounds of Detroit and Windsor radio return to their accustomed spots on the dial. While still in Ontario, I'm able to listen to Morning Edition via the NPR station in Ann Arbor. At the entrance to the Blue Water Bridge, I exchange my Canadian money for American money, then visit the duty-free store. I get a can of syrup, and I also reclaim the GST for my hotel stays. There are a lot of cars wanting to enter Canada, but there are few wanting to enter the US. I breeze through customs and head towards home, stopping only for lunch at Burger King. By 1 PM, I'm home.
©1999 R. W. Reini. All rights reserved.
Written by Roger Reini