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Published: June 20th 2019
We're on our way!
As regular readers of this travel blog will probably recall, my last published scribblings covered our amazing trip out east
to Indochina and before that our incredible adventure (also, in an easterly
direction) to Australia and New Zealand. But, for 2019 we thought that it was time for a change; time to escape the tortuous grind of the 'Deal or No Deal' Brexit; time to erase from the memory, the embarrassing spectacle of which Prime Ministerial hopeful managed to smoke, inject or inhale the most illicit drugs in their past; and time to troll off to some place, where drinking a milkshake is considered more fun than chucking them about!! And with that in mind, it was no contest really. We simply decided to take the advice of American author Horace Greeley from 1865 and slightly more recently, that of comic genius Groucho Marx in his 1940 ditty...........and.......'Go West Young Man'!
(By the way, if you fancy watching a video of the Groucho song, just click on this link - https://https://youtu.be/HOifwfxZjEE).
But, how far 'west' are
we actually going you might well ask? Could it be Devon, Cornwall or even across the sea to the Emerald Isle. No dear readers,
Man and hire car!
this trip really is a long way 'west', in fact pretty much as far west as you can go, before you're arguably going east again! This time, we're off to the continent of North America to do parts of Canada and then onwards to do part of America's 49th State, the mighty wilderness of Alaska.
If you recall, there were six of us on the Indochina jaunt, Mandy and I, plus our good friends Steve and Lily Forbes, their daughter Sarah Jo and Steve's sister Tina. However, this time Tina has abandoned us and we're down to the 'Famous Five
'. But, it's a little different this time, because Mandy and I will be spending the best part of a week at either end of the holiday, just the two of us, without the Forbes......ON OUR OWN
!! How will we possibly manage, ha, ha?!
Before we go any further, I guess it would be useful to say a few words about the itinerary? Well then, first stop for Mandy and I is Toronto, flying with Air Canada from Heathrow on 17th June and on arrival, we drive straight to Niagara for a couple of days, before driving back to
Hilton Fallsview 1
Our modest little hotel in Niagara! We were in the tallest tower, about two thirds of the way up.
Toronto and flying on to Calgary to spend a few days with lovely cousin Laura, who is living in Canada at the moment. We then fly on to Anchorage (via a short stopover at Vancouver, when we meet up with Steve, Lily and Sarah Jo) for a few days inland in Alaska, before picking up a ship for a 7 day cruise down the Alaskan coast to Vancouver. The Forbes family leave us at this point to fly home to Manchester, while Mandy and I will have a few days on Vancouver Island and a final couple of days in Vancouver itself, before heading home on 11th July. And.......we're back to being independent travellers on this trip; no organised tour, just doing our own thing, for better or for worse!
As I sit at home typing the first part of this post, it is a couple of days before our departure and, remarkably, we are completely ready for action...........house cleaned, grass cut, bags packed and looking forward to enjoying Father's Day tomorrow and saying a fond farewell to the family. As a matter of interest, The Forbes Clan are already in Canada, having left on the 5th to spend
Hilton Fallsview 2
Our first view of the Canadian Falls from our room.
time with a cousin of Steve's near Toronto, so they have been in holiday mode for a while now.
7.00 o'clock Monday morning and our taxi arrives 10 minutes early and........we're off, after saying fond farewells to neighbours Margaret and Eric, who kindly got up especially to see us off (!!) - well, if the truth be known, Margaret is always up and about early and Eric was leaving early to return a trailer he had hired over the weekend, which they had used to carry all the equipment for the London to Brighton cycle ride that he and his wife Jane, completed yesterday!! Huge congratulations to the 'crazy, fit family'!
As we got on our way and after what has seemed like weeks of rain in biblical proportions, the sun is shining brightly as our taxi wings us off to Heathrow for our flight to Toronto and everyone can rest assured that now we have left the country, the weather will probably be great back in the UK,while we are away!
The journey to LHR was as you would expect for a Monday morning on the M25 (torturous!!), but we arrived in good time, then whisked
The Skylon Tower 1
The Tower at night.
through Bag Drop and Security and were relaxing in an airport lounge soon after nine. We did have a slight panic at Bag Drop, when Mandy's suitcase was showing as a few pounds overweight..........only to find that the excess was being caused by part of my bag still being slightly on the scales!!
Our Boeing 777, Air Canada flight was pretty uneventful (slightly late leaving and the same on arrival) and we managed to book two seats together (how romantic!) virtually at the back of the plane and close to the toilets, which is always handy. Mandy thought that it was very convenient for the 'Mile High Club' and......................I did ask her to 'let me know how she gets on'! As far as I'm aware, I don't believe she is a member just yet! We landed around 2.30, experienced our first 'high speed travelator' in the terminal (not for the faint-hearted, especially if you're not fond of escalators, although we coped like seasoned pros!), and after about 30 minutes getting through Immigration, we collected our bags and headed off on a route march to the car rental area. Mandy reckons that we did over 13,000 steps yesterday and most
The Skylon Tower 2
The US Falls from the Tower......
of these were in the Terminals at Heathrow and Toronto and getting to the car rental area was a prime example of this! We opted for a SatNav in the car (a great move as it turned out) and as a result National upgraded us from a saloon car to a SUV, a Ford Flex (no, I'd never heard of it either!), a mighty, Eco-Friendly (!!!), beast that was like attempting 'to reverse a bus up a single track country lane', trying to get this thing out of the car rental parking garage!
But it wasn't long before we were on the road and the 'beast' soon came into its own, being a really nice drive and plenty big enough to ensure that everyone else gave you a pretty wide berth! And, the SatNav was a life saver! Although we had printed off directions to Niagara, it would have been a nightmare simply trying to follow these alone, particularly with us being half way there before we saw our first sign for Niagara. But we made it, safe and sound and about 90 minutes later, we pulled up in the parking garage of our home for the next two
The Skylon Tower 3
........and another view of the US Falls.
nights, the Hilton Fallsview and that's exactly what we had from our room on the 31st floor........a fantastic view of the Canadian Horseshoe Falls and a pretty good (although, slightly obscured) view of the US Falls as well........perfick, as Pop Larkin would say! Incidentally, when the complimentary toiletries in your room include a tube of mouthwash, don't try and use it as shower gel, because the lather is hopeless!!
After grabbing a cup of coffee and a few minutes rest, we hit the streets - it may have been nearly midnight in reality for us, but we had places to see, while we still had some energy! Our hotel was really well positioned and our first stop was the Skylon Tower, just 5 minutes walk away. We had booked a Day/Night ticket online, which allows you to go up twice (funnily enough, once during the day and once.........yes, you've guessed it......at night!) and the ticket lasts from the day you redeem the online voucher, to midnight the following day. So, we planned to do our 'day trip' today and go up again after dark tomorrow. The whole experience is just as you would expect for this type of attraction
Skylon Tower 4
View of the Canadian Falls.
in North America, with the obligatory photo shoot (and, yes, we did buy!) and lots of other things to do, especially for kids. The view at the top is well worth it and we were blessed with good weather.
Back down from the Skylon Tower, we wandered down to the water's edge for our first close-up of the Falls and they didn't disappoint. Such incredible raw power, generating enough hydro-electricity to supply one million homes for a year, with an unfathomable 750,000 gallons of water cascading over the edge of the Falls........every SECOND!!! After dark every night, the Falls are lit with a series of changing colours and there is a firework display over the Falls at 10pm each evening, although we were just back in our hotel room by this time, exhausted but pleased to have packed in quite a lot since our arrival.
Day Two and having both slept well and joy of joys...........managed to avoid getting up until 7ish, or noon back home(!), our first stop this morning was the cruise to get up close and personal with the Falls, on the 'Hornblower', the Canadian version of the more well known 'Maid of the Mist',
Skylon Tower 5
Yes, that really is us going over the edge!
the latter actually operating from the US side. It's only a 20 minute or so ride, but it's a great way to really experience the magnitude of the Falls, so long as you're happy to get wet!! We were, of course, snappily dressed in our plastic (recyclable) ponchos and whilst these did protect us from the worst of the water, you definitely do not stay dry! But it was worth it and although the mist generated by the Falls did tend to hamper picture taking, we still managed to get some decent snaps.
After stopping for an IHOP breakfast, we popped back to our hotel for Mandy to change into some drier clothes and also to pick up the car, so that we could drive about 20 minutes away to the beautiful, Niagara on the Lake. Niagara on the Lake is the polar opposite of it's brash and occasionally tacky bigger brother and is a lovely place to while away a few hours. Some quaint shops, lovely old buildings, lots of quirky eateries and in a cracking spot, right alongside Lake Ontario, the smallest of the five Great Lakes of North America (covering an area of about 7,500 square
Skylon Tower 6
What a couple of Falls!!
miles), but still the 13th largest lake in the world - zooming in on my camera, we could just about make out the skyline of Toronto in the distance.
As well as stretching out by the water's edge and catching up on a few zzzz's in the afternoon sun, we had a fabulous traditional Hungarian Chimney Cake sundae at the Budapest Cafe (why 'Hungarian' in Niagara, who knows!), consisting of a hollow cylinder (hence 'chimney') of dough, crispy on the outside and coated in sugar and cinnamon and soft on the inside, filled with apple pie filling, Mr Whippy style vanilla ice cream and dripping with caramel sauce - absolutely delicious, and totally calorie free!!
On the way back to our hotel, we stopped off at the Whirlpool Aero Car attraction, next to Niagara Gorge a few miles out of Niagara Falls. The Niagara river flows very fast down the gorge, with some serious rapids, before reaching a 90 degree turn in the gorge, where the river has created a sort of roundabout on the apex of the bend, with some major whirlpool effects. For no apparent reason in 1916, a Spanish engineer decided to construct a cable
The Hornblower 1
The boat in relatively calm waters.....
car ride going across the gorge, simply to go there and back, not as a means of getting from one side of the gorge to the other. The antique (!!), original metal 'basket' hangs from six sturdy ('hopefully') cables and carries 30 people there and back, with some spectacular views up and down the gorge. With the 'basket' open to the elements, Mandy decided to pass, and take on the role of official photographer, but I went for it and loved it! In actual fact, it felt very safe and solid and didn't swing about at all.
Back to the hotel to freshen up and change, before hitting the town once again for a few drinks, some scoff and our nighttime trip up the Skylon Tower. Dinner was in a decent (if unspectacular for the money) restaurant called The Keg in The Embassy Suites hotel just up the road, but a place with a fantastic view over the Falls, so worth the money for that alone. The trip back up the Skylon Tower was a little disappointing, because it was very crowded and we were really too tired to cope with all the pushing and shoving for position. We
The Hornblower 2
........and as choppy as it gets!
did get some nice snaps though and a 'tip'........the fireworks are positioned over the US Falls and you need to facing that direction to get the best view of the display from the Tower. Personally, if seeing the fireworks is important to you, then siting yourself down at ground level, on the promenade opposite the US Falls, would probably be best.
Back to our room to pack and get ready for an early start tomorrow, for our drive back to Toronto and our flight on to Calgary, where the weather is looking a bit grim (cold and wet), but seeing Laura will be sunny and make up for that!! First leg done and dusted and very good it was too. Before I finish, I can hear the clammer for a quiz question, so here goes:
Most of you will probably know that Charles Blondin was the first person to walk a tightrope across Niagara Falls in 1859, but how did Nik Wallenda technically beat Blondin to this feat in 2012?
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