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Day 6, Tuesday 7/16, Niagara Falls to Niagara On The Lake

sunny 95 °F
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Today is my father's 91st birthday!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Had breakfast at the Grand Buffet in the Casino and it was not very good. Oh well, I'm entitled to one miss every so often. We checked out of the hotel and went to park in an area we had scouted out the day before, with handicapped spaces a couple blocks walk to the Maid of the Mist boat ride. We arrived to find one parking space left...but...there was a machine that demanded payment. In the States I can park in these areas without paying, but there was nothing that suggested that applied in Canada. There is a police station about a football field's length from where I parked and Margaret suggested that she go ask. I said, check the couple cars that are behind us and see if they have tickets in their windows indicating they had paid. In the meantime, I stick my credit card in the machine and sign up for 3 hours..."$30!!!". No more than three seconds after I complete the transaction, I hear Margaret yell out..."Don't pay!!!!" She learned from another woman behind us that the law is the same in Canada. Oh well...I'm entitled to one miscue every so often.

We then proceed to the Maid of the Mist. The Maid of the Mist is a boat tour of Niagara Falls. The boat starts off at a calm part of the Niagara River, near the Rainbow Bridge, and takes its passengers past the American and Bridal Veil Falls, then into the dense mist of spray inside the curve of the Horseshoe Falls, also known as the Canadian Falls. The operation is run by the Maid of the Mist Steamship Company of Niagara Falls, Ontario, which has been owned by the Glynn family of Lewiston, New York, since 1971. The first Maid of the Mist was launched in 1846 as a ferry service between the Canadian and American sides, pre-dating by two years the construction of the first Niagara Falls Suspension Bridge at the site. The ride is quite well organized, with each boat holding between 300 and 600 people. The boats leave every 10 minutes. Just before stepping onto the boat, each passenger is provided with a full length blue poncho with a hood. It is not unlike putting on a laundry bag and I got a laugh from a fellow Maid of the Mister when I joked about the lack of a warning and opined what a terrible legacy it would be..."he died of asphyxiation putting on his blue poncho." Fortunately, Margaret was much more adept at locating holes for arms and the head...and I survived. The ride itself was amazing. Seeing the falls from a distance is pretty impressive. "Hearing" and "feeling" the power of the falls was something more. I have not yet viewed the video that I attempted to take but, when we got to the Horseshoe Falls (Canadian Falls), the boat was being thrown about pretty good and visibility was quite limited. The amount of water soaking my body was not limited. We returned to shore much in need of internal hydration...95 degrees and very humid. We were treated to a medley of tunes by a guitar player at the Maid of the Mist restaurant. We then departed for our next stop, Niagara On The Lake. Our GPS kept directing us to the Queen's Highway when we wanted to proceed along a beautiful backroad that took us past the Butterfly Conservatory.

The Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory is a butterfly zoo operated by the Niagara Parks Commission. The conservatory has over 2,000 tropical butterflies from over 60 different species. The conservatory glass dome is 11,000 sq ft in size with 590 ft of paths inside the greenhouse portion, which has a wide variety of foliage. Since captive butterflies usually have a life span of 2–4 weeks, the conservatory imports up to 3,000 butterflies per month from world butterfly farms in Costa Rica, El Salvador, the Philippines, and Australia. Special netting along the inside of the glass dome keeps the butterflies from getting stuck to it and from dying from hypothermia. Being inside this place is surreal. There are butterflies of every shape, size and color flitting about freely. The foliage and flowers are beautiful.

A short drive from the butterflies took us to our next stop, The Riverbend Inn, about two minutes outside of the town of Niagara on the Lake. In stark contrast to the modern accommodations at the Andaz in New York and the Fallsview Casino in Niagara Falls, the Riverbend Inn is a beautiful old inn which was originally built in 1846. Found a very nice deal on Travelzoo for our two night stay including breakfast each morning, a dinner credit and a couple wine tasting vouchers. The Inn is beautiful in every sense. Our room is very large and extrememly well appointed with gorgeous antiques. There is a beautiful bar and restaurant. After we unpacked, we went into town and, if you looked up the word "quaint" in the dictionary, there should be a picture of Niagara on the Lake (NOTL). We had to locate a little Jameson for the room and liquor is only sold at government controlled stores in Canada. Also puchased a bottle of Weir Chardonnay (Mike Weir is a noted Canadian golfer who has vineyards...pretty good.)

One thing NOTL is noted for is the Shaw Festival. This is a series of plays that runs every summer at three different venues, featuring plays or variations of George Bernard Shaw plays. I had purchased tickets last month to a play entitled "Peace In Our Time" which is a supposed comedic takeoff on Shaw's "Geneva". I had it on the calendar for Wednesday night at 8pm and had arranged dinner reservations at 6pm. When we were relaxing in the room before our 7:30 dinner at the Inn, Margaret read a flyer that indicated our play was not playing on Wednesday, but Tuesday. Oops...well I'm entitled to an occasional miscue. So we changed the time of our reservation and dinner at the Inn's restaurant was quite good. We got into town a little early, parked, and found a nice gelato shop. Then we proceeded across the street to the Courthouse Theater, aptly named after a former...courthouse. When intermission came, Margaret and I looked at each other and the look said..."was it as bad for you as it was for me?" The answer...we left at intermission...after all, the All Star game was in progress. And, after all, I am entitled to an occasional miscue...think I've used them all up 1/3 of the way into this trip...and all in one day. It was going so nicely! And so, we returned to the Inn and were lulled to sleep by the exciting 3-0 AL win.

Posted by stevencavalli07 15:07 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

Day 7, Wed 7/17, Niagara on the Lake

Wine tasting ahead

sunny 95 °F
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Slept in a bit and then had our included breakfast out on the restaurant terrace. The terrace overlooks acres of vineyards until your eye catches the Pellar Estate Vineyards, one of the two largest vineyards in Niagara on the Lake (NOTL). Margaret's breakfast was memorable for this fabulous french toast (bread pudding like) accompanied by fried bananas (should be a picture). We then set off to tour the area by car. Niagara on the Lake is described as the prettiest town in Canada. I haven't seen enough of the country to agree or disagree, but I would describe it as Carmel on a lake...a big lake...Ontario that is. The main drag is a beautiful combination of quaint shops, hotels, restaurants and fabulous flowers everywhere. It seems as if there is a well kept park on every street, beautifully maintained by Niagara Parks. It appears to be a very propsperous area, with beautiful houses on large, well maintained lots. Across the lake, in Lewiston, New York, is a Tahoe like setting with beautiful houses right on the lake, and a veritable regatta of sailing vessels. We stopped at the Niagara on the Lake golf course for a beer. It is described as one of the best 50 short courses outside of the US by Golf Digest and has a restaurant and bar right on the lake. We then were compelled to use the two wine tasting coupons that came with our package. First we went to Reif Vineyards where we had our very first taste of a NOTL specialty,"ice wine". Ice wine is a type of dessert wine produced from grapes that have been frozen while still on the vine. The sugars and other dissolved solids do not freeze, but the water does, allowing a more concentrated grape "must" (pressed fruit juice) to be pressed from the frozen grapes, resulting in a smaller amount of more concentrated, very sweet wine. With ice wines, the freezing happens before the fermentation, not afterwards. Unexpectedly, it was very tasty, like a sweet port. Our other coupon was for The Pellar Estates Vineyard, a beautiful winery with a highly rated restaurant. There we puchased a bottle of sparkling ice champagne to be popped and consumed when we finally learn that Margaret has passed her licensing exam.

Returned to the Inn for a bit of respite before dinner and, truth be told, I started working on this blog for the first time...working backward from today which, of course, would not have included tonight which had not yet occurred. So, we had dinner at the quaint Charles Inn ( quaint being pretty much redundant at this point) and it was very good. We then headed back to the Inn so that I could work on both the camera and my laptop which I managed to spill water on before we left for dinner. Oops again on me. As we speak...or write... The camera and laptop are sitting atop the air conditioner...stay tuned.

Posted by stevencavalli07 19:37 Archived in Canada Tagged the on lake miagara Comments (0)

Day 8, Thursday, July 18 Moving Day to Toronto

Moving Day...From Quaint to Not So Quaint

sunny 95 °F
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News about the laptop and the camera not good so far. Fortunately, Margaret brought her iPad.

After a nice breakfast at the Riverbed Inn, we packed and set out for Toronto where we will spend the next 3 nights. The Tom Tom performed admirably and got us back to Ace Car Rental where we caught a cab (Escalade) which took us to Trump International Tower and Hotel in Ontario's financial district. Got a nice deal at this fabulous new hotel through Luxury Link. The hotel is only a year old and it is beautiful. The service is as good as I have ever experienced...cold towels at reception...truffles in the room. The rooms have all the latest technology. Everything from the drapes to the lights to the TV are controlled by lighted electric modules throughout the room. There is a 10" x 12" TV built into the bathroom mirror!!! After a little unpacking, we were picked up and taken to the nearest hop on/off bus and took a 2 hour tour of the city. What is immediately striking is the tremendous amount of construction that is going on. The apparent reason is the 2015 Pan Am games which will be played in Toronto. There is not a lot of old stuff in Toronto, but some interesting buildings and attractions such as an extensive underground shopping district, the hockey Hall of Fame (we learned that the national sport of Canada is not hockey...but lacrosse!!), and the CN Tower which was once the tallest free standing structure in the world. Another day of 95 degree heat and matching humidity made it very difficult to even sit on an open air bus for two hours.

After a bit of rest in one of the most comfortable beds ever, we ventured to Quinn's Steakhouse and Irish Pub for a good, not great, steak/prime rib dinner. We have become curious about the Canucks and why they seem to be so happy and friendly. We were reminded on our bus tour that the war of 1812 involved the US trying to come to the rescue of the Canadians who we believed to be under siege by the British, only to learn that the Canadians were aligned with the Brits and it was the only conflict we ever had with the Canadians. I digress. When we asked our waitress what complaints she had about her life in Canada...she drew a blank...but recounted two recent episodes of medical emergencies she had that were treated expeditiously, appropriately and...freely!

We returned to the hotel intrigued by what was happening on the "happening" 31st floor of Trump Tower. Swiping our key on the elevator security strip, we raced to the top of the hotel where we seriously increased the average age of the bar/restaurant patrons...and yet I wondered why they kept playing Beatles' songs. Undaunted by age or any other criteria, we set out to be what I am convinced to be the only people that have played Dominoes in this hip, upscale lounge. We did and I am sure that Guinness will be excited to know that I prevailed in the first dominoe game on the 31st floor at Trump Tower...can't wait to meet the Donald and give him my autograph.

Posted by stevencavalli07 20:19 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

Day 9, Friday July 19 Subway Adventure& Royal Ontario Museum

Royal Ontario Museum

semi-overcast 94 °F
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We got off to a bit of a late start and had our first experience with Toronto's Underground/Subway. Any time you walk into a new city with a new (to us) transport system like this, you get that stupid feeling. Machines all over the place...we looked at all of them...and with the dumb American look, sheepishly walked to the window with the lady behind it...HELP!! Speaking really slowly and over enunciating her words, she said, "You...will...each...need...two...tokens" to get to and from our destination, which was the Royal Ontario Museum. When she said "two" she also held up two fingers. I felt like saying, "Look lady, we may be dumb Americans, but we are not deaf Americans." So, I look around and, alas, there is a machine that says tokens...$3 each. But you can't buy 4 tokens...Noooooo! On the face of the machine is a picture of a $5 Canadian bill with a red circle with a line through it. The choice is to insert a $10 bill which gets you 3 tokens and change, or a $20 bill which gets you 6 tokens and change. Surely, I thought, there must be a 4 token machine. I once again walked to each machine in the area...none issued 4 tokens. Oh well, we can probably get a single token on our way back. So, in goes the $10 bill and out comes a number of coins. We have now been in Canada five days and these are the first coins I have seen. None of them appeared to me to be tokens. I show my handful of coins to Margaret and exclaim, "No tokens!" She walks up to the lady behind the window to complain, and the lady says, "Show me what you got." I empty the coins from my palm to the counter at which point she separated the three smallest coins from the group, looks at me with a serious frown, and announces, "Tokens!" ...as slowly as one could possibly say the word. If I had a tail, it would have been firmly planted between my legs. So I gave one to Margaret and followed her and others through a turnstile which led to the trains. It was at that point that I realized I could have bought the exact number of tokens from the window lady and paid with a credit card. Oh well... Having been temporarily distracted, I did not see Margaret or the others deposit their coin into a hopper next to the turnstile. I just went through and, alas, we still had the two tokens needed for the return trip. All of a sudden I wasn't feeling so stupid...just a little paranoid about the Underground police that were approaching. I breathed a little sigh of relief when they walked past. The Toronto subway is much like the city, clean and efficient. The trains are BART like, but you can go anywhere for one $3 token.

It was a short ride to the Royal Ontario Museum, Canada's largest world culture and natural history museum. The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) is Canada's largest museum of world culture and natural history. Founded in 1912, the museum has maintained close relations with the University of Toronto throughout its history. With more than six million items and forty galleries, the museum's diverse collections of world culture and natural history are part of the reason for its international reputation.The museum contains notable collections of dinosaurs, minerals and meteorites, Near Eastern and African art, East Asian art. It also houses the world's largest collection of fossils from the Burgess Shale with more than 150,000 specimens, and we saw every one of them. The museum had a fascinating exhibit on Mesopotamia on loan from the British Museum of Natural History. There were some amazing exhibits of black and white photography and we spent about six hours taking it all in.

Urtilizing our two remaining tokens, we made our way back to the Trump. We have been anxiously awaiting the results of Margaret's EPPP licensing exam which she took on July 5. When she walked onto the train she said that she had a strong feeling the results would be out today. When we got back to the room...sure enough...she had an email advising that the test results were available online. You could cut the tension with a dull knife. Then came the two best words we heard on the trip..."I PASSED"...she cried out...and she spent the next half hour making sure...while I quickly chilled and opened the champagne we had purchased at NOTL. We eschewed our dinner reservations in favor of cheese, snacks and champagne in the room. We then set off to the Ed Mirvish theater to see Andrew Lloyd Weber's and Tim Rice's new production of the Wizard of Oz. This is the North America premier of the old story with a number of new songs. It was no Kinky Boots but a very entertaining production nonetheless. We walked about a block from the theater to Toronto's version of Time Square where a Led Zeppelin copy band was blasting it's music in a public square. The thunderstorms we had experienced for the first time earlier that afternoon had passed, easing the extreme heat and humidity we had been experiencing since New York. We then went to the Hard Rock Cafe for a late night supper and returned to the room...knowing we would sleep better now that the EPPP dragon had been slain.

Posted by stevencavalli07 09:06 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

Day 10, Saturday July 20 Goal!!!!!!!!

sunny 83 °F
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Saturday morning was the first day in the 80s since we landed in New York. It was warm and still a little muggy, but you didn't get sapped just walking a couple of blocks. We walked to a new breakfast spot about a half mile from the hotel, gearing up for our trip to the Hockey Hall of Fame. I expected that this would be just a token visit so that I could report to Kevin Douglas that we had been there. We ended up spending a few hours there and it was very interesting and entertaining. The absence of a Sharks' presence was palpable. Even the gift shop was lacking in Sharks' items by comparison to the other teams. The Rocket, Gretzky, Hull and Orr were prominently featured among all the greats. The current Stanley Cup was on display and photo opps abounded. That and other memorable trophies were on display in an area that had a large vault where I assume the Stanley Cup was put to sleep at night.

There was a lot of interactive stuff. I talked Margaret into trying her hand (or stick) at the interactive hockey shot on virtual goalie. ThIs consisted of an area approximately 25 feet long by 20 feet wide. The participants stood behind a blue line and were given 5 pucks to shoot at a life size virtual hockey goalie. Male hockey wannabe after wannabe lamented how they "had been robbed" as their pucks clanked off the virtual pole of the goal...ending up with a zero score. Then stepped up #64 with CAVALLI across the back of her teal jersey. She deked and deked again and "SCORED" with her fourth shot...just sneaking the spinning round missile under the glove of virtual goalie. The crowd behind the goal rose as one, arms raised, the roar deafening. Then the "clamoring queen" struck again (inside family joke). We were looking for the gift shop, and we approached a young lady employee who in perfect Canadian asked, "Wayoat?" I understood her to ask, "Are you looking for the way out?" Margaret scrunched up her nose, looked back at the girl and said, "Whale?" The girl, a little annoyed, repeated, "Wayoat?"...to which Margaret again responded incredulously, "Whale???" An intervention was obviously necessary and I said, "She asked, 'Way out?" ROFL...this will provide many yuks for years to come!!!! (Side note to Jen...I typed the word "yuks" and the iPad tried to autocorrect to "yucks"...so there miss smarty pants!!)

As good a run as we were having with the test results and the goal...our fortunes were about to take a turn. Next stop on our itinerary was the CN Tower. The CN Tower ia an 1,815.4 ft concrete communications and observation tower in Downtown Toronto. It .was completed in 1976, becoming the world's tallest free-standing structure and world's tallest tower at the time. It held both records for 34 years until the completion of Burj Khalifa and Canton Tower in 2010. It remains the tallest free-standing structure in the Western Hemisphere. In 1995, the CN Tower was declared one of the modern Seven Wonders of the World by the American Society of Civil Engineers. The CN Tower is right next door to the Rogers Center where the Blue Jays and Toronto Argonauts play. The Blue Jays were in town as we waited in line to pay our $35 to ascend to the tower. After climbing numerous stairs and waiting in line, we were informed by the young lady at the ticket window that there would be a 45 minute wait to see this modern wonder of the world. We decided we had better things to do and more itinerary items on our last day in Toronto. With the purchase of our hop on-/off bus ticket two days earlier there was a 45 minute boat tour of the islands of Lake Ontario. Perfect, since one of the bus stops was right outside the CN Tower and the boat ride was only another three stops. So, Margaret went to the bus while I stood in line at the mobile hot dog stand to get some drinks. I saw Margaret going through her purse...looking slightly annoyed. Long story short, the tickets were nowhere to be found and, try as we may, we could not convince the 18 year old ticket taker that we really had paid $70 for two tickets two days earlier (good for 3 days). No worries, I said in Canadian...let's go to the Harbour Sports Grill, have a beer and watch the end of The British Open...saw the add for the HSG on the map that we got with the bus tickets. So, we hailed a cab for the $12 ride and the cabbie pointed out the sign in the Harbour Mall which said "Harbor Sports Grill". We a lot from the cab and walked the mall...couldn't find the HSG. Margaret finally went into the Sushi place and was informed that "it closed"...hat trick!! We walked across the street to the Westin, had a couple of Stellas, watched highlights of the Open and cabbed back to the Trump for a little R&R before dinner. Dinner was at Epic Restaurant in the Fairmont Hotel. This was a Groupon I found which gave a 4 course dinner ($250 value ) for $99. The dinner was excellent.

Turn down service at the Trump was unlike any other we have experienced. Not only is the bed turned down, robes are placed on the bed, slippers on the floor on a little mat, a bottle of Evian water with a glass on each side...and truffles in their own little trump boxes...with a little soft jazz on the radio. We thought there was an incredible, additional nice touch shortly after we returned from dinner. A Trump employee rang the door bell and when I opened it she handed me a beautiful three partitioned dish with a colorful macaroon in each partition. I thanked her and the Donald profusely, and gave the macaroons to Margaret. She took a bite of one and the "ummm...." described their goodness. Ten minutes later, the doorbell rang again. I opened it to once again to see the smiling Filipino lady who had handed me the macaroons. She said," Sorry, sir, but I forgot to give you the check!!" I informed her that we had not ordered macaroons, assumed they were a parting gift and she was welcome to the two and a half that were left. She left quietly, not to be heard from again.

Tomorrow...the train to Ottawa.

Posted by stevencavalli07 08:48 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

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