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Canada and a little USA 2012

a travel blog by lucy3119

One month in the USA and Canada
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Back in New York

New York, United States

I arrived in New York around midday on the 28th, got to the Hilton (Trek America's gateway hotel) and treated myself to a ludicrously expensive, nine-million-calorie bacon Sandwich. Mmm-mm. Met up with some of my tour group in the evening for drinks and discovered that, with three other teachers on the trip, it wouldn't be much of an escape from thinking about teaching after all!

The thirteen members of our group met up with our guide Kyle pretty early on the 29th and set out in our minivan for Finger Lakes. We took what Kyle advertised as a 'hike' (actually about a 2km walk) to a "Waterfall" (actually a trickle - usually it's a lot more dramatic) called Taughannock. Later on, we swam in one of the Finger Lakes until we found ourselves being ever so slightly tangled up in huge amounts of seaweed.

We finished up at a winery, tasting 8 wines for $3, eating lovely fudge and listening to live country music.

We put up our tents for the first time at our campsite for the night and cooked chilli, the first of many (very successful...) campfire dinners.

permalink written by  lucy3119 on July 29, 2012 from New York, United States
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"Aren't Canadians friendly, eh?"

Niagara Falls, Canada

The minute we crossed the border we noticed something odd happening...people were becoming strangely cheerful, friendly and relaxed. We must be in Canada! Our border crossing experience, involving the most upbeat customs officials I have ever encountered, was a slight contrast to my US customs experience, which involved a hostile-looking woman impatiently barking "Fingers on the pad! Thumb! I said thumb!" at me while I dithered confusedly.

First stop in Canada? It HAD to be Niagara Falls! We took a stroll along the boardwalk, snacking on kosher hot dogs (tastes just like the normal kind.....) and trying to figure out why our hair kept going static, sticking straight up in their air every so often for no apparent reason. Of course, we then took a Maid of the Mist boat ride into the Falls, which was spectacular. One of our group had been given a tip-off that the lower deck was better than the upper deck as it gave you a more dramatic perspective of the size of the falls: most tourists headed straight for the top and ended up packed in like sardines, so down below we luxuriated in our freedom to stroll around and see the falls from different parts of the boat. The bottom deck was much, much dryer, too!

After heading to Toronto, we set up camp at the Indian Line campsite, my team cooked pasta for the rest of the group and we settled in for a night of s'mores (our guide Kyle taught us the "proper" way to make them), and beer/wine/other. On a trip to the washrooms, we encountered an old man with a guitar who, on discovering that we were English, serenaded us with his special rendition of the Spice Girls.

We got a little worried later on when two members of campsite staff, Phil and Caroline, approached us...we thought we were making too much noise. Turned out, their truck had broken down and they needed our help to push it to the main road. We invited them to join us and they promised to return once their truck had been rescued. True to their word, they returned a couple of hours later in time to teach us the game '21'. Aren't Canadians nice, eh?

permalink written by  lucy3119 on July 30, 2012 from Niagara Falls, Canada
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Rainy, rainy Toronto

Toronto, Canada

Our abridged tour of Toronto began on an arty, alternative street of independent shops and street art everywhere you looked. Several of our group were offered weed. We settled for milkshakes.

We then headed for the CN Tower, a stark contrast considering it was packed with tourists and hour-long queues (although we did get to watch coverage of the Olympics - it was the gymnastics - while we waited). We were conned into buying more expensive tickets that included a trip to the very top level of the Tower, the Skydome, only to discover that you had to queue for a further two hours after the initial queues to get up there. We declined.

We took the standard glass floor photos and ventured outside onto the platform for aerial views of the city. We watched a storm approach ominously and experienced a strange effect in the elevator: it began to rain as we descended, but the rain looked just like snow floating gently in the air because it was keeping pace with us on its way down.

A thunderstorm hit and, not being prepared for torrential rain, we hung around the CN Tower for lunch. Eventually, we had to make a break for it and a small group of us ended up waterlogged and disillusioned in a nautical-themed pub by the harbour called Wallymagoo's, sipping delicious key-lime pie flavoured smoothies.

In the evening, once we'd dried off, we were taken to a hotel for dinner. It was nothing spectacular...until, that is, the evening's quiz was announced. Turned out we'd stumbled upon a Futurama convention involving a quiz dedicated to the cartoon and a viewing of three episodes. Four members of our group volunteered to represent us in the quiz (they scored 0.5 out of 30, in the end) while the rest of us escaped to a Mexican 'dive bar'. Most of the people there were probably on drugs, so of course we ordered milkshakes.

permalink written by  lucy3119 on July 31, 2012 from Toronto, Canada
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Amazing Algonquin

Algonquin Park, Canada

On our way to Algonquin Provincial Park we stopped for lunch in a place called Barrie, outside a slightly dodgy-looking reptile centre. Near to the picnic benches was an enclosure. Inside that enclosure was a washing-up bowl. Inside that washing-up bowl was some water. And in that water was a tortoise, floating, face down and still. We were slighty concerned.

In an unexpected turn of events we were invited into the centre and introduced to some of the reptiles: we got to hold various snakes, lizards and tortoises, while a knowledgeable volunteer guide told us everything she knew about the creatures. We mentioned the tortoise floating in the bowl outside. She looked concerned and said she'd check it out.

We eventually made it to Algonquin and within minutes of arriving we spotted a crowd by the side of the road, pulled over and experienced our first Canadian animal encounter - a moose! We joined the other tourists crowding around the unconcerned animal, and were impressed by the size of it, expecially it's long, long legs! After this, we thought it would be funny, considering the size of our group, to form a crowd by the side of the road for no reason and see how many people stopped to see what all the fuss was about.

After setting up camp in a great forested campsite we took a short but absolutely beautiful hike to Beaver Lake, which only exists thanks to a dam created by a couple of beavers once upon a time.

We had to bear-proof our camp before bed, which meant locking away any traces of food or toiletries in the trailer of our van. Most of our group were too afraid of bears to go to the bathroom during the night. I, on the other hand, forgot about the threat of bears and strolled casually to the outhouses without a care in the world.

permalink written by  lucy3119 on August 1, 2012 from Algonquin Park, Canada
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Steve and the swimming squirrel

Algonquin Park, Canada

Today was the day of our canoeing expedition. Our enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide, Steve, took us out on one of the lakes in Algonquin for a few hours of paddling. We ended up in a beautiful and peaceful marshy area carpeted in water lilies. On the return journey Steve got ridiculously excited at the site of a swimming squirrel, something he'd never seen before in all his time as a canoe guide.

We also dropped into the park's visitor centre, complete with stuffed bears, creepy talking mannikins and a board for reporting animal sightings - according to it, a bear had been spotted in our campsite that morning. We suspected this may not have been a serious report, though, because the same person had also reported a "mosquito...on my arm".

Some of us finished the day with a 7km trek along the trail of an old railway line, followed by a BBQ and beer.

permalink written by  lucy3119 on August 2, 2012 from Algonquin Park, Canada
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Surprising Ottawa

Ottawa, Canada

I have to admit, I wasn't expecting much of Ottawa. As the capital city, I envisioned something like Toronto but bigger and greyer. Turns out we were all wrong: Ottawa has a much smaller population than Toronto and the city centre is beautiful. We arrived to the sound of live music, and everywhere we went, there was some kind of performance or cultural activity going on. While some of the group went shopping after our visit to parliament, Charlie, Ross and I wandered down to the canal and watched boats moving through the locks towards the main lake. We wandered through the cultural quarter of the city and discovered a quiet and very French courtyard where we relaxed for a while.

permalink written by  lucy3119 on August 3, 2012 from Ottawa, Canada
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Dinner in the dark

Montreal, Canada

We arrived in Montreal late afternoon and checked into our hostel (a welcome change from camping on mats for a week!) With no time for sightseeing we headed to O. Noir, a restaurant where you eat in complete, pitch darkness with only the blind waiters to help guide you. It was one of the most bizarre and interesting experiences I've ever had. We all had a few moments of panic as we were led into the blackened room and sat down, but we soon adjusted as the food and wine arrived. Eating was bizarre: we had to use our fingers to feel around our plates and often lifted our Forks to our mouths to find that there wasn't actually anything on them. Ross even started chewing on his napkin at one point. We all ordered the mystery starter, and had to guess what it was based on the taste before our waiter revealed it afterwards. Definitely a memorable meal!

After the meal, somebody decided karaoke would be a good idea...we ended up at Pang Pang's, a true Chinese-style karaoke place with our own room. Such a hilarious night...

permalink written by  lucy3119 on August 4, 2012 from Montreal, Canada
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Pirates of Montreal

Montreal, Canada

Our day of sightseeing in Montreal. Most of the group went for some jet boating while Ross and I went to see what we could find around the harbour. We ended up stumbling upon an art exhibition of work by indigenous Canadians, as well as a pirate-themed restaurant that we thought looked like fun: we tipped off the rest of the group and we ended up booking a table for the evening.

We were hit by torrential rain but decided to carry on sightseeing regardless; luckily, the sun soon came out and we wandered the very French and atmospheric streets of Montreal, eating ice cream and watching a street performer climb a ladder made of knives while offending passers-by. We also tried maple lemonade served in classic American red plastic cups.

In the evening we returned to our pirate restaurant, which turned out to be a great find - not only was the food fantastic, we also had a pirate musician playing sea shanties and Irish folk music on the fiddle and banjo (with audience participation) and posed in the stocks with our pirate host.

permalink written by  lucy3119 on August 5, 2012 from Montreal, Canada
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Everything's breakfast in Tennessee

Quebec, Canada

As we were packing up the van ready to head to Quebec, a man approached us, informed us that "everything's breakfast in Tennessee", and asked us if we were selling beer.

Back to camping again in Quebec after two comparatively luxurious nights in a hostel. We arrived late afternoon in time for a ghost tour of the old town lead by a Liverpudlian girl dressed as a Victorian man. The highlight of the tour was being allowed into the Notre Dame cathedral at night, sitting on the pews in the dark listening to ghostly tales. It was lovely seeing Quebec all lit up, particularly the Chateau Frontenac on the hill.

permalink written by  lucy3119 on August 6, 2012 from Quebec, Canada
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When in France...

Quebec, Canada

Quebec is by far my favourite Canadian city. The old city is beautiful, atmospheric and cultural and, as usual, the locals were really friendly.

We began with a visit to the Citadelle to watch the changing of the guards, a 40-minute long process involving soldiers in English-style red uniforms, a marching band and a goat with golden horns.

We wandered around parliament, the Chateau Frontenac, and quirky streets complete with giant murals. On the search for some good poutine (a local dish of fries covered in gravy and cheese curds) we asked an off-duty local tour guide who led us to a restaurant apparently frequented by the locals. We weren't disappointed: despite not usually liking fries with cheese OR fries with gravy, I ate every bit of my delicious poutine.

Charlie and I, separated from the group, stumbled upon a glassware shop where you could watch live glass blowing, and then settled down at a cafe in a beautiful courtyard opposite the cathedral. We made bets on how long it would be before we spotted another member of our group and, sure enough, Ross soon wandered by and joined us for a drink. We wandered around a bit more, stopping to watch street musicians and artists.

Earlier in the day Charlie, Amanda and I had visited the Morrin Centre, an ex-jail that now houses a beautiful library. There, we met a man who referred to himself as 'The Ben' and informed us that if we returned at 5pm, we could join a tour that would give us the chance to be prisoners: "we WILL treat you like prisoners". How could we refuse?
We arrived for our tour and were forced to line up outside, in handcuffs, before being led to the 'medical room', where we were examined and given a 'tonic'. We then proceeded to the cells.

After the tour, we thought "when in France..." and went for crepes at a great little creperie.

The torrential rain caught up with us again just as we were headed to a a free Cirque du Soleil performance under an underpass. After much deliberation we decided to stick it out and I'm glad we did: despite a completely bizarre and disturbing concept the performers themselves were amazing, with their gravity- and death-defying acrobatics.

permalink written by  lucy3119 on August 7, 2012 from Quebec, Canada
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