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Martin's Travel Journal Just a few photos and ramblings from my trips.

Canada

CANADA | Monday, 24 April 2006 | Views [294]

Touching down in Toronto in April was slightly deceiving. Canada – the land I had always associated with winter sports, mounties and maple leaves was in the midst of mini heat wave. The jumpers and thermals packed were not needed – bring on the t-shirts and air-con!

But this aside here we were, Toronto, Canada and the start of our journey East to Montreal.

We would be here in the largest city in Canada for a few days and as with any typical North American city there was a lot to take in.

Arriving in the late afternoon the first evening was relaxed. We took a walk around the area that our hotel was in to get our bearing, take in some dinner and a couple of drinks before heading to bed to make the most of the following day.

Toronto City Hall is one of the most modern and striking city halls I have ever seen. Opened in 1965 and consists of two towers that encircle a dome shaped building that help to give the hall its nickname ‘The Eye Of The Government’ as from the air the City Hall looks like a massive eye.

Just round the corner from here was the Old City Hall, and was built over 100 years ago. The clock tower contains its very own Big Ben.

We continued to explore the streets of Toronto, visiting the Eaton Centre with it’s interesting art squeezed in among the shops and made our way down to the harbour for ice cream whilst walking along the banks of Lake Ontario and the Kajama Tall Ship, which used to sail between trading posts in Southern Europe, Scandinavia and Russia.

That night we decided to go all touristy and have dinner at the Hard Rock Café, due to it’s wonderful location looking over the pitch in the Sky Dome, home to the Toronto Blue Jays. 

The next day contained more exploring but a massive slice was saved for the most eye-catching landmark in Toronto. No matter where you go in the City there is always one backdrop to every view, something that appears in every picture and a must do when visiting Toronto – The CN Tower.

The tallest free stranding structure in the western hemisphere is the icon of the city. It is huge. Staggeringly so and the lift helps to emphasise this point.

The lift (or to use the native elevator) has glassed floors and zip to the top of the tower (1,134 feet) in less than a minute…58 seconds to be exact.

I’m not going to lie, I am scared of heights and this did petrify me but I endured it and soon we were at the top and on the clearest of days you can, supposedly, see the mist from Niagara Falls, about 40 miles away.

After taking in the amazing views of the City, Lake Ontario and the surrounding Canadian countryside, we headed down for dinner in the 360 Restaurant.

The food was delicious but the view from the restaurant was even better. Our timing was impeccable. We sat when it was still daylight and dined through dusk and into the night, meaning we got to see a variety of views of the City and watched the sun set over Canada as we tucked into our dessert.

The next morning, after breakfast in a lovely local diner we’d found near our hotel, we headed to Niagara Falls. After the drive that took around an hour we stopped away from the Falls, as we were due a special treat – to take a helicopter ride over the falls.

Having never been in a helicopter before this was a double special treat and soon, after conquering my fears of height, we took off. To see such a famous sight from this view was something special and got to see it from angles many people usually don’t. It was an experience I will never forget.

Soon though (and my heart was thankful) we were back on solid earth. We made our way over to the falls and took in the view of this site from the Canadian side. The more impressive of the Falls, the Horseshoe Falls are on the Canadian side, separated by Goat Island. We passed up on the boat ride that takes you out to the edge of the Falls and instead strolled along the Niagara River and took in some of the sights. Sadly the area around the fall is a tourist trap that tacky shops, casinos and cheap restaurants have popped up.

We opted for a quick bite for lunch and an ice cream before taking one last look at the fall before we headed down river towards Lake Ontario and the beautiful Niagara-On-The-Lake. This town, sat on the shores of the lake, was established by the British (as so much is in North America) in 1781. In the war of 1812 the town was captured by the Americans but following their withdrawal the British rebuilt the town, giving it that distinct New England feel.

We only stayed in the tower for a couple of hours as we were soon back on the road, passing for the last time the city of Toronto and heading down Highway 401 to the capital Ottawa.

Arriving late in the evening we ate and retired to our beds (after a couple in the hotel bar) and arose the next day to a very wet Ottawa. The rain was torrential, but we didn’t let it dampen our spirits.

As Canada is split between British and French Canada it was decided by Queen Victoria that the capital of the nation should be set on the boarder between the two and Ottawa was named the capital.

Our hotel was within a stones throw of Parliament Hill, where the beautiful Parliament Building stands and as the rains stopped for a time we headed up to check it out. Wandering the grounds and taking in the murals and art pieces we discovered an area housing raccoons, before we headed into the building itself.  A debate was taking place and we were able to wander into the viewing area and watched for a while whilst the parliament were debating a global warming bill.

We strolled around the town some more but the heavens opened again and we took shelter for dinner. We were due to leave early the next morning and the weather finally got to us – so we headed back to the hotel.

We arrived in Montreal the next lunchtime after what seemed like an eternity of a drive. We checked into our hotel and immediately hit the street. Straight away you could tell the difference from the Ontario cities, namely Toronto. Quebec State, being in French Canada and Montreal in particular had a distinctly French feel.

French is the official language of the City but, unlike travelling in France, people obviously speak English. Montreal is Canada’s cultural capital and very expensive.

Taking in the usual sights, such as the City Hall, Olympic Stadium and the Biodome – which has been converted from the Velodrome built for the Olympics. The Biodome contains a range of animals from across North America.

The following day we set off for a day trip to Quebec, rising early. En-route we went off the beaten track and headed out into the countryside to a sugar shack.

Here the Canadians specialty, maple syrup, comes into contact with something else Canada mass produces – snow. The maple syrup is twirled round onto a stick and then placed in snow to freeze and then eaten as a sweet. It tastes magnificent.

After snacking we carried on to Quebec to finish the day. One of the oldest cities in North America . As we only had the day here we hurried around the fortifications,  Palace-Royale and Parliament Hill and took in a French Canadian lunch. Street art is dominant in Quebec and everywhere you turn there is something else to see.

Soon though it was time to hit the road back to Montreal. By the time we got back it was very late, so headed straight to bed. With one last day in Canada before catching the red eye flight back to London we spent it wandering the streets of Montreal, though it was raining (as it had been pretty much since we entered French Canada). We undertook some shopping, stopped for lunch and then returned to our hotel to gather our belongings and make the trip to the airport. 

Canada is a gorgeous country. Vast open spaces and countryside as far as you can see. The cities are a mishmash of French and British designs and scatters of American (such as Toronto). I will come back here again someday, but to see the other side of the country, the mountains, Vancouver and out to the Pacific. In comparison with its Southern neighbour Canada has amazing charm and character and amazing warm people. I did love it here.

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