On the road again...

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North America » Canada » Ontario » Toronto
January 31st 2010
Published: February 4th 2010EDIT THIS ENTRY

North America

On the road again... How time flies. Not long ago, I had 3 months in London stretching out in front of me, in which I was going to get so much stuff done. So much stuff! And what did I do? I worked, saved some money, saw my friends and family. But I didn't get my blogs finished, and I didn't sort out all my photos. I did enjoy not travelling for a few months, though, not living out of a backpack, not moving all the time. But I also knew that I'd be looking forward to travelling again very quickly. And sure enough, after the novelty of working and wearing warm clothes in the cold weather wore off, I was dreaming of Mexican beaches and Mayan ruins again

So here I am writing to you from the road again. These pictures are from our first two weeks of travelling in North America. We went to Toronto, Canada on the 14th of January to visit Elliott's friends Gordon and Charley, who live in a lovely loft apartment in the centre of Toronto. They were very generous and hospitable, letting us stay with them for 10 days, and showing us a marvellous time. Charley loves cooking and made some delicious dinners for us. We went to the cinema a couple of times (the Book of Eli, good, and Avatar at the Imax, fantastic!), walked around downtown and Chinatown etc, had sushi, had Thai, had Starbucks (they're everywhere!!!), and so on and so on...


And I admit being a big nerd. Hands down Yes, I went to see the Canaccord offices in Toronto. I met up with one of my old colleagues, Joy, for some Italian and a good catch-up - sooo nice to see her again. And a couple of days later I met her for coffee and a tour of the offices too. It was interesting to see how it’s the exact same as in London, only with a better view. They’ve used the same designer, so I can understand if the people who travel between offices get a bit disoriented. They are on the 30th floor, with a clear view out over the harbour, Lake Ontario and the Toronto Islands.

Niagara Falls

After half a week of lounging around and checking the weather reports, we finally decided it was time to do some actual sight-seeing. The weather was finally showing potential for sunshine, so we bought our Greyhound bus tickets to Niagara Falls, which are only a couple of hours from Toronto, following the edge of Lake Ontario South West. It hadn’t been very cold in Toronto. Normally this time of year they’ve buried in snow for weeks, but the snow had been and gone again and the temperatures were like those they normally have in March. Gordon had advised us to wear layers rather than bring our big winter coats, with the result that when we got to Niagara bus station and started walking towards the Falls, poor Elliott was freezing in his fleece and other thin layers. There was quite a lot of snow around, and the wind was biting. But the Falls were beautiful surrounded by ice. You could see them from quite a distance, due to the massive cloud of mist created by the thundering masses of water flowing over the edge - apparently the equivalent of a million bath tubs every minute! I’ve only included a few pictures here, but obviously we took hundreds. Both of the American and the Canadian falls. The American falls are a bit down river from the more amazing horse-shoe shaped Canadian falls.

It’s weird with a natural wonder like this, and then its surroundings have been completely built up with shining glass monsters of buildings filled with casinos, hotels and other entertainment venues. We’ve been told that it’s a really nice area in the summer; beautiful with its vineyards and green fields; but Niagara Town itself will never be beautiful, and is a menacing reminder of humanity’s tendency to commercialise the natural wonders of the world lurking behind your back the whole time you’re admiring the cascades in front of you.

Rattlesnake Point and Toronto Islands

On the weekend, Gordon rented a car because we had planned to drive about 4 hours north of Toronto to a National Park where you can stay in a yurt, but on the morning of departure Charley woke up not feeling well. And then a couple of hours later we got a call from the yurt-people telling us there had been a cock-up with the bookings and that we didn’t actually have yurt after all. Luckily, we’d been too slow to decide whether to go
The CN TowerThe CN TowerThe CN Tower

Through a dirty bus window, but still the best view of it we got. 2 mins later my camera broke - so this is the last of the Canon photos - from now on, it's Ell's shitty Olympus that's driving me nuts :)
without Charley or do something else, so we weren’t already on the road having to sleep in a horrid hotel (according to Gordon). But we already had the car and were dressed to go out, so we found some other destinations to go to and decided to drive to a place called Rattlesnake Point where we went for a very icy walk. You walk along the edge of a cliff with a steep drop into the valley below and wonderful views. Gordon and Charley had seen some really big, eagle-like birds in the summer and we were all hoping to see them again. But with it being the middle of winter and all… we didn’t see the buzzards, which we read on a sign could sometimes be seen there.

On the way back, we took a ferry across to the Toronto Islands. They used to form a large sand arm into the lake, but a huge storm about a hundred years ago, broke it up into small sandy islands. Today they are all connected with little bridges, and the canals separating them are all navigable (in the summer). When we went, the canals were more or less frozen over, and a group of kids were playing ice hockey on a rink they’d made by scraping up the snow in a ring around them to keep the puk in. We walked around and looked at the many different houses and little wooden shacks that people live in. It must be a very nice little community, but annoying with the many tourists that flock there every summer - staring into your garden and peering through your windows. We stopped at a little café and had some much deserved and very welcome hot chocolate. Then we watched the sun set over the Toronto sky line, which due to clouds wasn’t too impressive. But once it was dark, the lights of the city were really amazing. I’m not sure the pictures give it credit. But there…

Hoover Dam

The first 10 days went way too fast, and all of a sudden it was time to catch our flight to Las Vegas. We were very busy for a day or so sorting out our hotel booking and car rental and bus journey further south. So stressful, this travelling business, I’m tellin’ ya
In the end, we found a
The view from the Canaccord offices out over Lake OntarioThe view from the Canaccord offices out over Lake OntarioThe view from the Canaccord offices out over Lake Ontario

Yes, I'm a dork who went to visit my former employers and lovely colleagues on my holiday...
good offer at the MGM Grand - the oldest and biggest hotel (according to Elliott) on the Las Vegas Strip - and a really cheap rental car for our first day there. We got up early(ish) to pick up the rental and start our long drive to the Grand Canyon via the Hoover Dam. The weather was beautiful, and our small economy rental, was a really nice, big Ford Fusion with an automatic that was sooo easy to drive. I’ve seen the Hoover Dam in quite a few films, and I know this happens a lot when you finally see something in real life, but I’m still surprised when things are really small compared to how I imagined them. Niagara Falls was the same, and now the Hoover Dam turned out the same way. The area was beautiful, with the blue lake flowing towards the concrete structure, with the red rocks rising steeply on either side, with a thick white band separating the water and the rock. Amazing! And yes, the dam is very tall/deep on the side away from the lake, where it would otherwise drop into a narrow canyon where now there is just a modest river at
Me and Gordon taking in the view at Rattlesnake PointMe and Gordon taking in the view at Rattlesnake PointMe and Gordon taking in the view at Rattlesnake Point

Just a couple of hours drive and a very icy walk outside Toronto
the bottom. But I thought it was longer and wider…
Right now they’re building a new bridge so that you can drive across the gorge without having to snake your way into the canyon and drive across the dam itself. You’ll be able to take some great photos from that new road when it opens. Right now it’s weird to see a half built arc balancing between two rocks the way it does. It somehow doesn’t look safe…

Grand Canyon

Anyway, on we went, for hours and hours, until finally we reached the Grand Canyon National Park at around 4 in the afternoon. We had taken minimal breaks on the way, apart from at the Hoover Dam, but still it took 7 hours from the time we left Las Vegas until we arrived at the visitors’ centre. It might have been a good thing, though, as there weren’t many other tourists around and the sun was getting a really nice warm hue, as it shone diagonally on the red, ragged rocks dropping sharply into the bottom of the canyon. It really gave you a desire to hike down and see what was down there. Better planning would have seen us staying overnight somewhere near the Canyon, but it was so expensive that I think we’ll have to take another trip there, when we can sleep in tents and the park is open for hiking down to the bottom in the summertime. It’s still one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen. I wish we’d had more time to explore the Northern rim too, but as it was, we drove out Desert View road, to see the sunset and see the canyon from a different angle. It was nice to get away from the other people and just have it to ourselves. Me, Elliott and the White Monster

Las Vegas

We finally got back to Las Vegas at 11pm, and decided to take the opportunity while we had the car, to take a drive down the strip and see what we wanted to take a close look at on foot the next couple of days. It was quite stressful. Though, there were so many cars and blinking lights and people, and sounds everywhere that it felt like we’d driven really far when I had to give up and have Elliott guide me back to the parking garage via the back roads. When we walked the Strip a couple of days later, we realised that we actually hadn’t gone very far, there’s just so much packed into a very small area that it felt like we’d gone several miles.

Our hotel was really nice. As we walked around and saw the other casinos we realised how classy and stylish ours was in comparison. We saw all the big ones: MGM Grand, New York New York, Excalibur, Luxor, the Monte Carlo, the fountains of the Bellagio, Caesar’s Palace, the Mirage, the Venetian and Treasure Island. But we still liked the MGM best.

We also did a little bit of gambling at the MGM one night. It’s weird, you can smoke in all the casinos (they don’t want you to take time out from losing your money to go smoking), and they bring you free drinks while you’re playing. You could definitely lose your sense of time in there. We played the one-armed bandit and roulette, and Ell played some blackjack, but we were both a bit intimidated by the big tables with other players - and not just because
The Toronto IslandsThe Toronto IslandsThe Toronto Islands

Here the canals between the islands are frozen and the kids had made an icehockey rink in the middle of it
of the minimum bets that were way higher than what we ended up losing on all our games All the cigar smoke and the perfumed air gave me a headache, though, so it’s not a place I’ll ever spend too much time.

And all too soon, our three days of luxury hotel beds were up, and we were wandering the streets trying to pass time until our night bus to San Diego, where we were taking a tram to Mexico - to begin our actual travels!

More about that later.


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