Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Toronto Travels

In winter 2014 when we heard on the news that Niagara Falls had frozen over we decided this was something we just could not miss, so we booked last minute flights from London Heathrow to Toronto with British Airways.

We spent three nights staying in a junior suite at The InterContinental Toronto Centre. The suite was huge and had a view of the CN Tower. The bathroom was a little dated compared to the rooms and the rest of the hotel but it was clean and functional. We arrived quite late so decided to just order some room service and jump into bed ready to begin our adventure.

Day one; we obviously couldn't come to Toronto without a trip to the world famous CN Tower. Being February, there were hardly any crazy tourists about like us so we didn't have any issues with queuing or pre-booking but this might be something to consider in more popular visiting months. It was quite an exciting lift journey up, not as flashy as other towers but still fun and it seemed to get higher and higher and higher, I don't mind heights but even I was relieved to step out of the lift and back onto a more solid floor. The views over Toronto from here are spectacular. There is inside and outdoor viewing and even a glass floor for those that are brave enough, I was not!!!

After the CN Tower we decided we couldn't last for very long in the biting cold, it was minus sixteen degrees after all, so headed to Ripley's Aquarium. This was a great Aquarium, it had a moving platform through the shark tank and lots of brightly colored tropical fish. It has been years since I have been anywhere like this and despite being full of school trips and families we found it educational and fun!

Bearing in mind we had, had a huge breakfast at the hotel (28 CAD for the buffet during the week and 32 CAD at weekends) we decided to grab a little snack for lunch and head back. We were freezing by this stage and quite jet lagged so we pretended it was the summer, headed for the hotel spa, sat in the hot tub to warm up and then snuggled into fluffy towels with a book on the sun loungers and napped and read.

Our little afternoon relax meant we were fully ready to head to the Air Canada Center to watch the Toronto Raptors Basketball. This was brilliant fun! I would thoroughly recommend anyone heading to the US or Canada to check out a Basketball Game. Make sure you pre-book tickets, which were not too expensive for the Raptors and get ready to cheer on the team US style. Imagine cheer leaders and people selling over sized food and drink treats, games and competitions at each "advert" break as well as live music and lots of screaming, clapping and at times sighing with disappointment.

After a good post Basketball lie in we were ready to collect a coffee and head for the Hop on Hop off Sightseeing bus. Be aware that in the winter time this does not run very regularly! Also the boat tour was unavailable during our visit due to the weather. The tour was interesting and a great way for us to see the city without getting freezing cold. We eventually jumped off to have a wander through the St Lawrence Market and grab some lunch in the Distillery District, which is a very cute area filled with places to eat.

We were quite tired out from the cold, it's more exhausting than you think so after another little nap and some down time we were ready for dinner. The driver of the bus had told us about an area close to our hotel for food (come out of the hotel main entrance, turn left, wander until you hit the traffic lights, take a right at the lights and continue for a couple blocks, then take the street to the left and you will find lots of eateries to choose from). Unfortunately as this was a last minute trip and we were particularly weathered from the cold we didn't look around too much and quickly settled on an American BBQ type establishment. However, if I ever get to visit again I will do my research as the Toronto food industry is world famous.

After a refreshing sleep we hired a car from around the corner of our hotel and took the short drive to Niagara Falls where we camped for one night at the Marriott Niagara Falls Hotel. The hotel is nothing special but it does provide spectacular falls views from the balcony. After checking out the frozen and insanely impressive falls on several occasions from the viewing platforms (the boat under the falls does not run during winter time) and doing some of the tourist gimmicks such as the IMAX, which did have some interesting falls stories it was time to get ready for our evening.

Our only evening in Niagara could not have been spent in a better way. We used Niagara Vintage Wine Tours to take us on a dinner tour with wine pairing. We were collected promptly from our hotel and taken in a minibus with one other couple to three different wineries. In the first we had a full tour of the wine making process and six tastings and in the second two we had three and four tastings respectively. By this point we had tasted a large variety of wines including the areas famous ice wine. We were also given plenty of opportunity to purchase wines as well. All of the wineries were beautiful and homely and had I known I would have stayed in this area rather than the falls itself.

Next up was dinner at the Charles Inn in Niagara on the Lake. This was amazing, we were sat in a candlelit conservatory with snow falling outside; it could not have been more romantic. We were also given two tables for two, which was a nice touch. We could choose from three starters and mains and two desserts. We both chose the mushroom tagliatelle . I then chose the salmon and the boy went for the beef and for dessert the cheese cake. Everything was beautifully presented and tasty, all paired with wine expertly chosen depending on the food you had ordered. We of course also had ice wine with the dessert!!! We arrived back to our hotel at about 10pm, warmed from the wine, filled from the food, bursting with new knowledge and smiling from all of the newly created happy memories.

On our final day in Canada we stopped at a supermarket to stock up on my Dad's favorite Nestle Turtles, if you haven't tried one do attempt to get your hands on these little pralined pecans covered in chocolate shaped like a turtle, they are good! We then took the Niagara parkway drive from Niagara Falls to Niagara-on-the-Lake. This is a stunning 20-30 mins drive, past gorgeous countryside, the river and beautiful houses, I think I drove past several of my dream properties all covered in snow!

On arrival at Niagara-on-the-Lake we were not disappointed and were glad to see the place in daylight after the evening before. We parked the car and had a wander through the town looking in all of the specialist shops and admiring the quaint and pretty surroundings. We chose to eat lunch at The Prince of Wales Hotel sat on a table in the window overlooking the lake and the cute wine trains collecting the tourists. Lunch for me was an exquisite Charcuterie board and for the other half a thick cut sandwich and hand cut chips all washed down with more local wine.

Post lunch we had to head to the airport to drop off the car and fly home. Our time in a very cold and very snowy Canada we felt had been well spent. If you can detour from Toronto to visit Niagara it is well worth the short and easy drive (even as Brits who aren't used to driving in the snow) but I would treat yourself to a luxurious and romantic stay in Niagara-on-the-Lake, it's a world away from the tacky, tourist filled Niagara Falls area.