A Travellerspoint blog

Driving day


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Today was just a driving day, about 4h from Oshawa [Oshawa-travel-guide-204097] to Ottawa [Ottawa-travel-guide-204103] (plus breaks). We departed around 1000 after a surprisingly good hot breakfast at the La Quinta.

We opted for a slightly longer route through Kingston as it would give us a lunch break at Costco around 1200. We confidently walked in through the front door despite not having membership. As Canada is cold, the food areas are located indoors unlike in LA. Our regular chicken Caesar was available but the chicken bake wasn’t on their menu, so we made do with a hot dog instead.

After lunch and a fill-up for the car, we continued inland (away from the river) on normal roads which was more scenic. We took a short break at Walmart to see if we could find something to hold our GPS (the sucker didn’t like the windscreen). Instead we found something that held up my phone on the dash very well.

We got to the Diefenbunker on the western edge of Ottawa, a remnant from the Cold War around 1530 just as ticket sales had stopped; it closed at 1600. It appeared to be an interesting enough place for us to return to, so we noted it down for the day after.

It was about 40 minutes to Adam’s Airport Inn, our home for the next two nights. It appeared to be a very Arab area with a few shawarma shops. Dinner in the Mexican was awesomely tasty and large. Both girls looked Levantine and the one with a hijab happily made my shredded pork(!) salad.

Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

Visiting Niagara Falls


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large_5550_14734704453228.jpgLeaving Isabella Hotel in our upgraded vehicle.
Breakfast at the hotel didn’t start till 0800. We would have liked to eat and get going earlier but this was a limitation. There were people already eating when we turned up on the dot at 0800. We ate, checked out and walked to Budget rent-a-car about 15 minutes away.

The man at Budget gave us an upgrade from our little car to a small SUV (he said). In the parking building, it turned out to be a big black SUV, blocked in by several other cars which had to be shifted before we could leave. It suited them to have us take it to Quebec [Quebec-travel-guide-204411] as it had a Quebec plate and "needs to go home". As petrol is cheap in Canada (about half the price of New Zealand), we were fine with the upgrade.

We returned to our hotel to collect our luggage before setting off in earnest around 0930.large_5550_14734704479681.jpgThe Niagara Falls area is very commercialised and touristed.Kim’s old Tomtom GPS had intermittent disconnects with the satellite. My phone GPS (like all phones) work best with a data connection which we didn’t have; with the high-rises around us it didn’t really help us till we were past our most crucial minutes getting to the motorway.

It was an easy 90 minutes on the motorway to Niagara Falls [Niagara-Falls-travel-guide-203957] where we found cheap all-day-parking ($5 per hour or $10 all day) on vacant land manned by an Indian man. It was about 5 mins to the casino and town, and another 15 minutes to the best part of the falls.

We walked to the casino, grabbing a free cuppa tea there. We did have to explain “white coffee” and “white tea” to the barman as these don’t appear to be terms used in Canada? We had a short play on the slot machines, losing $5.large_5550_147347044850.jpgOverview of the Niagara Falls. American on the left and Horseshoe (Canadian) on right.I guess it was a small price to pay for two free hot drinks and two toilet usages.

Around midday, even though I was still full from breakfast, I felt a strong need for food. We shared an overly-stuffed Subway before continuing or walk to the banks of the Niagara Falls.

The American Falls came into view first as we walked along the waterfront. We could see the grander Horseshoe Falls further along, but decided we would do the boat trip below ASAP as the ticket queues weren’t too long.

We walked down the ramp, then took the elevator before joining the queue to the board. We had a red poncho each. The 20 minute trip took us past the American Falls where we got damp, then continued to the middle of the Horseshoe where we paused. It was like being in heavy rain/wind and rather pointless for any photography.large_5550_14734704534430.jpgBoat going past the American Falls.It was actually hard to see; the view was far better from terra firma. But the experience was awesome!

Back on the bank, we walked to the Visitor Centre at Table Rock. The bank was built right up to the running water. The viewpoint provided an awesome into the centre of the Horseshoe where the boats paused. It’s great that such a vantage point is free to all visitors.

We were feeling rather hot and parched by then and returned to the casino for another free drink, this time an icy one each. It was 1530 when we started driving to our nightstop, Oshawa.

With a snack break, traffic in Toronto [Toronto-travel-guide-205344], we arrived around 1830 at the awesome La Quinta motel. The drive past the northern edge of Toronto truly showed the size of the city. Even though we were far from the centre the high-rises were still aplenty. And each time when we thought we would have past the concentrated areas, more high-rises popped up.

We had Chinese at a halal Hakka Chinese Restaurant (run by Cantonese and the food wasn’t anything Hakka). It started pouring torrentially as we sat down. I took my time with a very nice cheap white wine, finishing at the same time as the downpour.

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Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Exploring the city centre


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large_5550_1473468599251.jpgToronto waterfront.
We had a day for exploring cenrtral Toronto today. There was no pressure to get going and I used part of the morning to do some admin before walking down to St Lawrence market. There were some very tempting food on offer but we settled on a ginormous veal parmagiana sandwich and a spanakopita.

It seemed like a good idea to go get a cuppa on the waterfront but we couldn’t find anywhere suitable. There weren’t many places for a start but none that were pleasant enough in terms of a setting that were in the shade.

We metro’ed back for a rest before walking to Chinatown for a cheap, simple but awesome dinner. The shrimp wonton was like a shrimp meatball wrapped in wonton skin. But the BBQ pork a bit too chunky as a thinner cut would have meant more exposure to the marinade. Nevertheless, it was nice to have Chinese cuisine again after such a long period.

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Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

Surprise holiday (for us anyway)


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large_5550_1473468512414.jpgAt the CNE.
We were both in need of doing some washing so our priority was to find a Laundromat. Being labour day, we thought it would be wise to find it on our way out rather than cart all our dirty clothing there to find that it was closed. We found it easily and then proceeded to find the Budget Rent-a-car office which would be on the way to the subway station.

We didn’t have the same luck with the Budget office. The clock was ticking and Kim wanted to get to the CNE (Canadian National Exhibition) for the airshow which started at midday. We hopped on the subway and then the streetcar (changing at Union with a large crowd).

The entry to the CNE wasn’t too crowded. Kim pad for the CAD18 entry and we went through to find a good vantage point which wouldn’t be too exposed to the strong summer sun.large_5550_14734685151692.jpgAt the CNE.The performances were pretty awesome with the F18 Hornet, Hercules C130, Harvard, Harvard II, the Breitling Team and other aerobatics.

Billy Bishop airport was just off the shore and several commercial Dash 8s lining up for their final approaches in between the airshow performances were spectacular too. They did low turns and appeared to crash between the trees as they landed.

The airshow itself was free but the CNE area and the public area near it provided good viewing. But having paid for the entrance, we grabbed some lunch (Vietnamese roll and prawn summer roll) then explored the various exhibits. None of them interested us greatly (eg. crafts, tacky crafts, sandcastles, moss bears, military). There were also some areas selling clearance clothing which were largely XXL.large_5550_1473468517474.jpgAt the CNE.

Taking the street car back, we hopped off at the Harbour Centre before walking to Union Station. That gave us a little into to Toronto [Toronto-travel-guide-205344]’s waterfront area.

Back on the metro the Bloor-Yonge station, we once again tried to find Budget. After great difficulty, we found it inside a mall and confirmed that we had a reservation that we could pick up from that office.

We walked back to our hotel for a short rest before going to the Laundromat. The walk took us through the highrise apartment areas where the residents weren’t very well off. Some had second-hand stuff (very low-value items like phone chargers) for sale on the grounds. It’s a reminder that we’re not in the best area of Toronto but there are worse areas; when we were looking for cheap accommodation some reviews mentioned plenty of homeless people.

We popped our dirty washing into the machines and found an Indian takeaway for a curry and tandoori. They had limited but adequate seating. We popped back to transfer our stuff into the dryer then grabbed an icecream.

Our day in Toronto wasn’t as planned; not that we had very much planned. The Labour Day CNE was a surprise. It showed us the cosmopolitan nature of the city; many businesses are operated by immigrants.

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Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

Flying to Canada


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Today we fly to Toronto [Toronto-travel-guide-205344] at 1700. Apart from Kim returning the rental car by 0930, we spent our time in the hostel relaxing, packing, eating breakfast and making sandwiches for our flight. Icelandair’s onboard catering is expensive but in-line with Icelandic pricing. We had nice heavy bread rolls which we filled with ham, cheese and hard-boiled egg.

Checking out at 1100, we had an hour to kill in the kitchen before our 1200 van pickup, which took us to the airport bus. We go to the airport before 1330.

The bagdrop queue for Icelandair, WOW and SAS was long. One had to queue for the kiosk to get the bagtag beforehand as well. It just seemed so strange that everyone was queueing but maybe passengers on WOW (being a budget airline) didn’t have a manual option.

Security at Keflavik was very efficient and high-tech with motorised conveyors for the trays, including a mechanism for pushing aside bags that needed to be manually inspected. How does such a small population base fund this level of sophistication? Likewise with the very flash integraged tap/soap/dryer contraption in the toilets.

Our flight left from the non-Schengen area and we decided to go through passport control while there wasn’t a queue. Unfortunately seating in the non-Schengen area wasn’t as good as the area was cramped and seats were hard.

The flights for WOW and Icelandair appear to be timed for hubbing. There were only North American flights departing at this time. All of WOW flights were around 1600 and Icelandair around 1700.

They had five Icelandair flights (including ours) leaving from one corner of the terminal within 15 minutes which created a jam-packed environment. We couldn’t even see if the flight was boarding or whether the queue was moving.As time got close, we cut our way to the front to see that our flight was actually boarding by bus even though people on some of the earlier flights weren’t yet moving.

We were welcomed at the B757 door with a bottle of water each. Their pre-loved planes are nicely refurbished with PTVs, white (instead of old yellowed) lights which make them look cleaner, newer and fresher.

Our flight time was only 5h20 today instead of 5h55. The routing took us over the southern tip of Iceland and we saw some of the white snowy landscape. Time went reasonably quickly with some comedies, writing, photo-editing and eating. This airline provides complimentary soft drinks and hot drinks.

We landed early around 1830 and cleared immigration swiftly only to end up waiting for our luggage. We saw our crew, all with large suitcases even though they were only overnighting; no doubt they are all empty awaiting filling up with groceries and other goodies to take back to Iceland. There was no queue for the prepaid taxi so we got to the Isabella Hotel & Suites around 2000.

After popping out in the very pleasant evening temperature to get some milk for a cuppa, we retired in our very tiny room. Accommodation is expensive in this big city. Other reasonably priced options were in dodgy areas, very rundown or required full non-refundable payment even when booked many months in advance.

Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

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