Posts from the ‘Canada’ category

Over the edge: super views and proper beer in Toronto

Today’s Itinerary

  • Ascend the tallest building in the Western hemisphere for stunning views
  • Sample some of Toronto’s finest beer
  • Take a relaxing walk along Lake Ontario
  • Fit in just one more Poutine at the best sports bar in the country (world?)

We’re not going to try to compete with yesterday’s natural phenomenon – Niagara Falls.

Instead, today we’ll explore Toronto at a leisurely pace, checking out some of the major sights and exploring some of the lesser known secrets of this great city.

To begin the day, our local guide Christine is taking us to one of the most instantly recognisable, and most visible, landmarks in the city of Toronto – the CN Tower.

Way, Way Up in the Sky

It’s surprising to learn that it was Canada, and specifically, Toronto, that for the thirty-one years between 1976 and 2007 held the record for having the tallest free-standing structure in the world. We tend to think of Canadians as amiable and unassuming, and not given to flights of ego-boosting displays of stacking concrete towards the sun, but there you go.

The CN Tower, at 553 metres (taller if it is a sunny day) is the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, and topped by just 5 other buildings in the world. It absolutely towers over the Toronto skyline and on a sunny day you can even see New York from the observation deck.


Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

The tower is so tall that helicopters were called in to add the top components, but built so accurately that it’s vertical alignment varies less than 30mm across the height of the structure.

The futuristic lifts rush us up the open sides of the structure, and watching the ground whizz away from us is a ride worthy of a theme park. We just hope they don’t suddenly disengage and drop us back down.

Up in the observation deck, the view is absolutely astounding. We’re so high up it almost feels like we could begin to see the curvature of the Earth (in reality, we’d need to travel up another 30,000 feet or so). The landmarks of Toronto are easy to pick out, and it’s even possible to watch planes take off from a nearby airport.

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

Another astounding feature of the CN Tower is the see through floor. If you’re brave enough to stand on the glass, you’ll be able to see out the bottom of the observation deck. Take a close look at the photograph just below – that’s a view straight through the floor, all 550 metres of cold thin air to the ground below.

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

With panoramic views in all directions, you could easily spend the morning wandering around to take in the vast field of view the CN Tower affords at this height.

This panoramic photo gives a sense for the perspective that the CN Tower gives from it’s observation deck – it is hard to believe that a man-made structure can allow you to be so high up, without needing wings.

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

For the braver travellers amongst us, you might want to take up Christine’s challenge of completing an EdgeWalk (we didn’t – yes, we’re scared. Ok?).

This adventure (shudder) activity takes you out into the open air for a long, terrifying walk around the edge of the CN Tower, attached to the building by not much more than a rope. Your kind of thing? Watch the video below to see what it’s like. Us – we’re just going to enjoy a coffee and try not to think about how high up we are.

Poutine, please.

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

“It’s got what in it?”, we ask, as Christine brings out the plates.

“Curd cheese, hey – it’s great! Come on, try it – it’s Poutine! You have to!”

Canada’s national dish is an addictive combination of fries, gravy, and the slightly weird addition of curd cheese. It sounds less enticing than it actually is, and when you combine it with locally brewed craft beer, like we did at the Mill Street brewery, you’ll find yourself reevaluating the use of curd in everyday cuisine.

The hot, salty, savoury mouthfuls go down much faster than is credible, especially the chipotle variety (although this may be considered blasphemy). Offset by a palette-cleansing clean Pale Ale, we’re convinced.

Poutine is awesome – why is it only in Canada?

Walk the Lake Ontario path

Poutine is awesome but after a bowl of it (alright alright – two bowls. Plus some ribs) there is a definite need for a walk to assist our good digestive health.

A short drive takes us to the edge of Lake Ontario. One of the five Great Lakes, and the 14th largest in the world, it’s primary source is the Niagara River and it partially separates the United States and Canada.

Today the air is chill but the freshness of the air, and the sight of waterbirds skimming the lake’s edges, help us overcome the impending food coma and to relish the outdoors, even in a large city like Toronto. We won’t have time on this trip to make it to some of Canada’s true wilderness, but the long distance that Lake Ontario runs out to the horizon holds the promise of more exploration to come in our future.

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

The World’s Best Sports Bar?

In Australia, the people pride themselves on being sports mad. We’re sorry to break it to our Aussie friends, but the Canadians woop them three times over in that respect.

Just look at the size of this television. Just look at it.

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

This is just one of two hundred High Definition Televisions at the Real Sports Bar in Toronto. The TV you see above is 39 feet across. The atmosphere when the Maple Leafs are playing is incredible, and just about the only thing that could get us to tear our eyes away from the screen are the incredible buffalo wings and pints of Molsen that keep arriving at our table with alarming regularity.

One of the beating hearts of sports fans in this sports mad country, you have to go see a game at the Real Sports bar if you’re in Toronto. You won’t know what it means to be obsessed with sport until you do.

Oh, Canada!

Photo by kerno, Licensed under CC.

Photo by kerno, Licensed under CC.

So short, so brief – we must move on to other daily destinations but what else could we see in Toronto?

Tell us in the comments or on our Facebook page.

Going underneath the awesome power of Niagara Falls

We leave the hustle and pace and crowds of the Big Apple behind after three days in New York (Day One, Day Two, Day Three) for the comparative serenity of Toronto, on the east coast of that fair northern land – Canada.

But we’re not long in the city before Christine, our Toronto local guide, hustles us into her car and we’re out on the road.

Seems that New York isn’t the only town with hustle.

Today’s Itinerary

  • a lovely drive along Lake Ontario towards…
  • one of the world’s most well-known natural wonders – Niagara Falls
  • warm up afterwards with a Canadian national beverage
  • fit in a spot of bargain outlet shopping, then
  • sample some of the strangest wine in the world

The meandering drive from Toronto to Niagara Falls follows the curves of Lake Ontario as we leave the city. It’s mainly highways for the first part of the trip, but we are treated to views of the massive lake extended long out into the horizon in the morning sunlight.

Gradually the development begins to become less apparent and our expectations perk up. Niagara Falls, such a renowned natural wonder, is sure to be set in a location of spectacular natural beauty itself, showcasing the landscape and wildlife of southern Canada. Surely?

Not quite.

Natural Wonder + Casino

Niagara Falls is actually very heavily developed – to the point of absurdity, really.

We approach the falls from the Canadian side, which has the best view (no, really – it does – sorry USA) and instead of being gradually led through forests and mountainside to see the towering falls up gradually appearing in the distance behind sun-dappled trees, we just suddenly arrive smack bang in the middle of a miniature Las Vegas.

It feels a bit “oh yeah, there are some big waterfalls around here somewhere – but wouldn’t you rather play another hand of blackjack”.


We shouldn’t be surprised, though. According to the Niagara Parks agency, there was an admission fee to see the falls back in 1832. They say;

The first enclosed stairs were built in 1818, and a spiral staircase was constructed in 1832 for visitors to enter what was then called the “Sheet of Falling Water” attraction. The admission fee was $1, and for an additional dollar, certificates were presented to those who had completed the trip behind the Falls.

Being a tourist attraction is old hat for Niagara Falls.

Photo courtesy of

The pristine view that we were expecting at Niagara Falls. Photo courtesy of

We don’t have any photographs to share of the long line of casinos and massive hotels that line the upper banks along the Falls, because who wants to see that? Just prepare yourselves, is all we’re saying – if you’re expecting Niagara Falls to be remote and untouched, you’re going to be disappointed.

Now that is out of the way – we can talk about the Niagara Falls waterfalls.

One word – woah.

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

The sun is out and the wind is up a little, and everywhere around the falls there are miniature rainbows following you around.

If the world was just we’d be spotting pots of gold everywhere we looked, and little leprechauns would be carrying our things for us and calling us ‘Sir’, but the world isn’t just and this is Canada, not Ireland. No gold today.

Rainbows need water, by the way, and they’re caused by the sheer volume of water pouring over the edge of the falls and being picked up by the wind. It means that it is seriously wet around here – yes, even two hundred metres away from the falls. We would have been smart to bring an umbrella, or a waterproof jacket with us. This is definitely a sun shower – no clouds needed.

Photo by paul (dex) bica, Licensed under CC.

Photo by paul (dex) bica, Licensed under CC.

The archetypal Niagara Falls image, like the amazing photograph above, is found on the Canadian side of the border between Canada and the USA, close to the Horseshoe Falls. As we get close to the guard railings it is almost too hard to process the sheer power and volume of the water that must be rushing through the falls every second. The long curve of the Horseshoe gives an incredible perspective to the vivid green water contrasting against the pure white of the voluminous spray.

Christine turns to us and asks; want to get closer?

Not really, we think.

Behind the Niagara Falls

Somewhere in the vicinity of four milion cubic feet of water go over the falls every minute (we used Imperial because it sounds bigger; in Metric it’s around 100,000 cubic metres).

Christine grabs our tickets for the Journey Behind the Falls experience. We’re handed a (biodegradable) waterproof poncho and squash into an elevator that feels like it was part of the very first tourist attraction in Niagara Falls that we mentioned earlier.

We descend in the depths of the rock before the door creak open and we step out into tunnels built as far back as 1889. “They’re safe” we’re assured.

The noise, the roar from the falls is more than sound. You can feel the pressure and deep, low thrum generated by these elemental forces, and it is especially overawing as you get closer to the tunnel exit and begin to glimpse the tonnes of water rushing past at sixty-five kilometres an hour.

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

As you can see in the photograph, there are no real barriers to stop you from getting as close as you wish to the waterfall. Of course, most people, us including, are keeping a very, very respectful distance away from the edge of that ledge. We’re around one-third of the way down the waterfall but that is still a drop of 34 metres.

At the mouth of another tunnel exit, we head outside underneath a platform to get a better view of the waterfall, and are numbed by the relentless spray and the perspective that this view affords.

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

It is an awe-inspiring view. Cold; but awe-inspiring.

Warming back up

We’d be remise if we didn’t mention, at this point, one of Canada’s national drinks.

Tim Horton’s, the Canadian version of Starbucks crossed with Dunkin’ Donuts, is exactly what we need to warm up. The Vanilla Cappuccino goes down a treat…as does the second.

Finally some warmth returns to our extremities, and it’s time to move on to our next activity.

In the mood for a bargain?

The Canada One outlet stores near Niagara Falls are a must-visit if you’re looking to grab some bargains while you’re in Canada. We managed to pick up discounted Coach, Ralph Lauren Polo, Colorado, and Nike gear – so much that our poor little car complained the whole way back to Toronto.

It’s Cold in Canada, hey. Ice Wine, hey.

Christine drives us away from the commercialised, yet naturally compelling, Niagara Falls and promises a unique taste experience next.

We’re on the way to the Jackson-Triggs winery, in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Canada is one of few nations in the world who can produce a type of wine known a ice-wine. The tradition originally comes from Germany, with whom Canada competes with for ice-wine supremacy. Of Canada’s annual production, most comes from Ontario, and the micro-climates of Niagara-on-the-Lake make this an ideal location to sample this unusual type of wine.

Photo by Graham, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Graham, Licensed under CC.

Invented by accident by those crazy Germans, the point is to leave the grapes on the vine through several frost-thaw cycles, and when pressing them, to aim for an optimal mix of thawed and semi-frozen grapes. Too cold, and you could break your winepress, as this NYTimes article describes.

Pressing the grapes while they are semi-frozen means that the water is crystallised and remains behind, leaving a concentrated cocktail of sugars to be put into the barrel.

Producing ice-wine is a risky business – there’s frost, disease, and calamity to contend with, but as the first golden drops is poured into our glass it becomes clear why this is a risk worth taking. The aroma is of caramel, vanilla, and apricots, and we debate whether there’s a hint of musk.

Better have another to check.