I wasn’t able to travel abroad in 2010 despite my desire to travel to at least one different domestic and foreign city or town every year since graduating college (until I have a family, during which some travel might take a hiatus). However, when my boyfriend Sean and I were trying to plan our summer vacation in 2011 we decided that going North would make the most sense. We had both heard great things about Toronto, but airfare was super expensive. We finally decided that we would fly to Buffalo, rent a car, and then drive to Toronto from there – in which case it made sense to stop at Niagara Falls. During route planning we discovered that one of Canada’s great wine regions is also on the way: Niagara-on-the-Lake. Plan decided!
(August 5 2011) Day 1. Flying out from Boston, Landing in Buffalo, Entering Niagara Falls.
Despite the title of the post, we actually left Boston the day after my 25th birthday (the previous night was spent watching the Red Sox at Fenway Park). We flew to Buffalo, picked up our renal car, and drove through the border to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. We were thinking of spending some time on the American side, but the difference between the two is really remarkable. The American side is full of down-trodden casinos and fairly sketchy looking motels while the Canadian side resembles an amusement park with fancy hotels, elaborate storefronts, and an abundance of restaurants and various kitschy museums. After we checked into our hotel, we walk over to the main event. I had been to Niagara Falls once before when I was much younger, and this was Sean’s first visit. The waterfalls really are truly impressive. We decide to take a closer look and take a ride on the Maid of the Mist. The boat was a fun, damp experience. I was actually scared when it went into the middle of the main horseshoe – the falls are just so incredibly powerful! However, despite my paranoia we made the round-trip ride unscathed, with some awesome photos on our camera.
That night we ate dinner at an Italian restaurant and then headed down back to the falls to see the fireworks that were scheduled. We joined the crowd on the grass and spent an hour or so watching the lights reflect on the water in changing colors: purple, blue, green, yellow, white…but the fireworks never started. We finally gave up waiting once the crowd was half gone. We were a little disappointed, but we spent the night wandering around looking at the nightlife instead. We finally ended up at one of the hotel casinos. This was actually my first casino experience, and I was both a little nervous and excited to gamble. I started at the slot machines, betting a nickel. I pulled the lever, and won $100! After that I had some technical difficulties with the machine and some casino employee came over to fix it and then told me I was betting too high (isn’t that the opposite of what casino employees should be encouraging??). So I took my winnings over to the blackjack table and proceeded to about $20. Then I left the casino, still up a decent amount. And that was good by me!
(August 6 2011) Day 2. Leaving Niagara Falls, Entering Niagara-on-the-Lake.
The next day we grab some breakfast, take one last look at the falls, and then get into the car to make the drive to Niagara-on-the-Lake. On the way we stop to look at a whirlpool that we noticed on the map. We were thinking about taking a ride over the whirlpool in a kind of ski lift, but neither of us are very fond of heights so I kind of chickened out.
Once we got into the wine country, we ended up stopping at six different wineries for tours and tastings. First up: the Ice House, where we had our first taste of ice wine (which was a little too sweet and expensive for us). Number two was the Reif Estate Winery, where we purchased a bottle of Vidal. Number three was Marynissen Winery, which is the oldest winery in the town. There we purchased a bottle of fantastic Cabernet Franc. Stop number four was at Inniskillin. Next up: 20 Bees Wine Boutique. Our final stop was at Palatine Hill Winery. We were actually trying to go to a different winery that was organic, but were turned away because they were hosting a wedding. But boy did we luck out! The people at Palatine Hill were super sweet. We purchased one bottle of Merlot Cabernet from them and when we checked out they ended up adding a free bottle of champagne to our bag. The champagne was called Juliet – we were drooling over it during the tasting, but didn’t think that the fizzy would hold up well in the airplane and were afraid it might explode. So the saleswoman told us we had to drink it while on vacation. (And we did!) It was really fun to go to all of these different wineries. We learned a lot about wine, and about which kinds of wine we like, and the establishments varied from super modern to very rustic.
We spent the night in Niagara-on-the-Lake at the Olde Angel Inn, which we found out was supposed to be haunted – something we neglected to notice in any of its TripAdvisor reviews. After checking into the hotel we wandered around the town, looking to into shops, walking along water, eating some dinner, and treating ourselves to ice cream. The town was super cute, and we could definitely envision making another trip there at some point.
(August 7 2011) Day 3. Leaving Niagara-on-the-Lake, Entering Toronto.
In the morning we grab some breakfast at Balzac’s and then hit the road for Toronto. Once we check into our hotel and park the car in the garage we make our way to Toronto’s Festival of Beer. Although it was a rainy day the festival was a lot of fun. Luckily there were plenty of tents to hide under when the weather got too bad. We tasted an assortment of Canadian beers, and found some new favorites like Mill St and St. Ambroise. We also saw some of our hometown favorites represented.
That night we kept on the delicious beverage theme and ate dinner at the Beer Bistro downtown. We had come across it on TripAdvisor (my favorite travelling companion), and it lived up to expectations. The food was delicious and the beer list was impressive. A great way to end our first night in the city.
(August 8 2011) Day 4. Toronto.
We spend the next day wandering around Toronto, visiting all of the touristy sights. We start the day going north and wander around Queen’s Park and the Ontario Parliament Buildings, walk through the University of Toronto campus, and stare at the Royal Ontario Museum with its modern structure tacked onto the old architecture. After lunch at a diner with poor service and mediocre food, we take a long walk along water enjoying the sunshine, views, and boardwalk. That is, we enjoyed the sunshine until about midday when we succumbed to tiredness and were about to pass out from walking in heat all day.
That night we ate dinner at a sushi place on Bloor St. This was another delicious TripAdvisor recommendation, but also seemed to be a local favorite because we ended up having to wait a while for a table. After eating too much we wander the street for a bit looking at the shops, and then decide to play some pool. After losing a couple of games and treating myself to frozen yogurt, we end up at a bar with yet another awesome beer list.
If there’s a theme to this trip, it’s good beer. And we didn’t really expect that from Canada!
(August 9 2011) Day 5. Toronto.
More rain on day five. By then we had purchased a couple of cheap umbrellas, so we were covered as we made our way to the Hockey Hall of Fame. This was an especially exciting stop because Sean is a huge hockey fan and the Bruins had just won the Stanley Cup championship. As soon as we mentioned travelling to Toronto we were pumped up to see the Stanley Cup with the 2010-11 Bruins team names engraved. It was a lot of fun to look at all of the memorabilia and read the history of the sport both abroad and in the US/Canada. However, we were a little disappointed to find out the Cup with the most recent engraving was still on tour, and the one displayed did not yet have our teams name on it. Oh, well…
After getting our last photos at the Hall of Fame we get on the train and head to the Steam Whistle brewery. Again we did not have very high expectations of the pilsner but were (again) pleasantly surprised. The beer was crisp and delicious, and the tour was really cool. I really liked their logo and green glass bottles – it’s too bad they don’t export to the US.
For lunch we headed to the Distillery District to visit the Mill St Brew Pub. Over the past few days Mill St had become our favorite Toronto-based brewery so we wanted to check out where it was made. The location was cool; all of the buildings were refurbished mills. Unfortunately, we were not able to get a tour of the brewery so we settled for some tasty burgers, fresh beers, and purchasing a t-shirt for Sean and a pint glass for me.
Full and satisfied, we headed to the hotel to drop some stuff off and grab my Red Sox hat before heading to Rogers Centre to watch the Blue Jays play the Oakland Athletics. Being from Boston, where Fenway tickets are a hot commodity and games usually sell out, we were surprised to see how empty the stadium was. We were also amused by the hotel that is part of the outfield wall. We could see people watching the game from their room windows. Because the Sox weren’t involved in the game we rooted for the home team.
(August 10 2011) Day 6. Leaving Toronto, Flying out from Buffalo, Heading Home.
On our final day we wake up, check out of the hotel, and drive to Buffalo in order to catch our 3 p.m. flight back home to Boston. We did not have any time for activities or sightseeing, but left with a great impression of the city. Perhaps we’ll be back again! And next time hopefully the Red Sox will be in town.