Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Niagara Falls on Foot

Let's face it, nobody visits Niagara for the casino. If the thunderous falls are the only thing you want to see, it's entirely possible to do without a guide - and you only need to allow a few hours.

I was travelling from Toronto to New York and wanted to see the falls on the way. There's a Canadian/US border crossing (called the Rainbow Bridge) right next to the falls, so I decided to brave it on foot despite the fact that my one-way border crossing would require dragging my suitcase with me.

It was raining when I arrived, so I opted to take a cab from the train station to the farther end of the falls (about $11). This meant I started walking from the Canadian "Horseshoe" Falls, with the border crossing at the end.

True to what I'd heard, the Canadian side was more spectacular...

I was surprised I could capture a crisp photo... the speed of the crystal clear water rushing over the side of the Canadian Falls was a staggering 2,271,247 litres per second!

Just a few minutes walk away, the American Falls were equally impressive for a different reason. They pass less than a quarter of the volume of water, so enormous ice floes gave the appearance that the waterfall had frozen. I contemplated ticking 'see a frozen waterfall' off my T-Shirt Bucket List, but decided I should wait until seeing a waterfall that had truly frozen in place.

Normally there are other paid activities at the falls, allowing you to go down on the water - but not in winter. However, I was really happy with what I got to see.

The American Falls on the left, and the Canadian Falls on the right

I crossed the border at the Rainbow bridge without an issue, then caught a bus to Buffalo for my flight to New York.

Overall I found it a very straightforward experience and would highly recommend it even for one-way travellers like myself who need to bring all their luggage with them. Despite the rain and the recent snow, the walk was easy, and well-paved.

My #1 tip is not to miss the Canadian Falls - the border crossing is efficient and it's well worth the effort, even if you're not planning to visit Canada as part of your trip.

Monday, March 31, 2014

24 Hours in Toronto

I knew I'd hit Canada the moment the view from my window became ice and snow.

My first visit to Canada, unfortunately, was to be a short one. I wanted to do a day trip from New York to Niagara Falls, and discovered that it would save me over $500 to do it myself and fly via Toronto. So, I had the serendipitous opportunity to add 24 hours in Canada's largest city onto my trip.

My first observation was that it was freezing cold. About -4°C to be precise. My second observation was that all the locals were wearing T-shirts and excitedly chirping to each other about how exciting it was to finally have a break from the cold weather. Apparently just a few days before it had been minus 20.

In true Toronto form, I started my day by walking around the city with a coffee from Tim Hortons (read: Canadian Starbucks) cradled in my gloved hands.

The inevitable first stop, to get my bearings, was the CN Tower – which was the world's tallest tower until 2010.

It's worth buying a coffee from the restaurant to see the last part of the 360° view.

The walk from the CN Tower to Chinatown provides some interesting views of Toronto which were made even brighter by the glorious sunshine – something I'm told the locals hadn't experienced for quite some time.

After an affordable lunch at Noodle King, a recommended Chinatown restaurant, I explored the colourful Kensington market area. This bohemian shopping neighbourhood is well worth a visit for any fan of vintage clothing or collectables.

When I popped home to unload my purchases, I was interrupted by a tapping noise on my window.

For dinner, I headed to Toronto's vibrant Church Street neighbourhood, determined to find some Canadian poutine (french fries topped with gravy and cheese) to top off my fleeting visit. I didn't have to look far. O'Grady's Tap and Grill offered an amazing gourmet poutine with bacon, and months after my visit I can still remember the delicious taste. In fact, a Canadian recently told me that the best poutine in Canada comes from a little pub on Church Street.

Though I had no idea at the time, it was O'Grady's. A great way to cap off my fleeting fist visit to Canada.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Vegas: All Work and All Play

I left Vegas three years ago with a long list of things I'd missed, and no idea if I'd ever be back to tick them off. But this year, I unexpectedly got the chance.

But there was an important catch: this was no leisure trip, but my first international work trip. Consequently, my colleague Sarah and I had a very exhausting work schedule, and the few gaps in which to see Vegas had to be stolen from time we'd otherwise be sleeping - late at night or early in the morning. But, we managed to make a fairly decent go of it. Having said that... I didn't have time to gamble even once, my whole time there!

Sarah and I in the state we appeared for most of our time in Vegas.

Without further ado, here's the list of activities I failed to complete last time:

1.  The Stratosphere rides
Imagine getting thrown off the side of a skyscraper, 350m high. Welcome to Stratosphere. Seriously. There are three theme-park rides that throw you around in all kinds of directions from the top of a tower only a few storeys lower than the Empire State. It's insane. Sarah wasn't at all keen to try the rides, assuming the role of photographer.

2.  Visit a Vegas club
This one I wasn't sure I would get to tick off, but I should have known the Les Mills Megamadness after party would be a good night!

3.  Buffet, sweet buffet
After a long day on my feet, I nearly ordered room service again. But I couldn't pass up the opportunity to try my first Vegas buffet. Given my companion was the nutrition manager, there was no hope of company, but I enjoyed it on my own regardless. Though, I barely got through three platefuls - including dessert!

4.  See 'O' by Cirque du Soleil
Thank goodness Vegas never sleeps - 'O' performs twice nightly, and the second performance is late enough that we were able to make it after finishing our responsibilities at the convention. Although, we were cutting it so fine that we had to sprint the entire way, arriving so puffed out I thought I was going to die!

I'm very glad we made the effort - 'O' topped every Cirque du Soleil list I could find... and it really was a magical experience. My favourite scene involved a giant pirate ship, with trapeze artists and acrobats completed indescribably complicated manoeuvres while it swung in the air above an enormous pool, which at other times was filled with synchronised swimmers.

5.  Helicopter over the Grand Canyon
Sarah surprised me on my first night, with a big idea that I never expected to work. She hatched an impossible sounding plan for us to helicopter to the Grand Canyon and back before the time that we needed to begin work the next morning - 10am. But it worked. The only catch was that we had to leave our hotel at 5:30am...

Arriving at the airfield shortly after sunrise

The awe-inspiring Grand Canyon - with the SkyWalk just visible in the centre.

The mindblowing view from the SkyWalk

They say the glass is thicker than it looks.

Given the minuscule amount of spare time we had, I'm still shocked at how much we managed to squeeze in.

There's only one thing still remaining on my Vegas list: the roller coaster at New York New York.

Oh well, maybe next time.