Canada or Bust!! - A Canadian Wonderland: Day 1

Thursday, August 29th

I tend to start each trip wondering how I got to this point.  When you think about it, several factors have to come together to make a trip work.  Originally, Adele and I had a big trip planned.  We were going to hop in the Super Cooper and drive up through Canada.  Toronto, Montreal, even through Prince Edward Island (cause, Anne of Green Gables).  The way back was going to be through the US and would include a seafood tower of some sort.  But work got a little nervous breakdown-y and I needed to take some vacation days from this trip to be used for trips to be written about later (so excited, btw).  A few weeks ago, I originally told Adele I didn't think I could do anything.  Boston had been on the list of places to go, but I worried about time off of work.  And the length of a drive.  And money.  

But here I am.  Obviously, I was swayed.

The decision was to start in Niagara.  Niagara is only about 8 hours from Chicago.  It isn't an overwhelming length of time in the car.  And neither of us have been to Niagara before.  Plus, Toronto was only about an hour and a half away from Niagara.  And in between Niagara and Toronto is wine country.  Seriously.  So...there was no way to say no.

The good news is if there were ever two people that could put together a road trip in 10 days, it would be Adele and me.  We ended up with four distinct parts of the trip and three hotels.  For the most part, we figured out restaurants we wanted to try.  The rest would fall into place as we went along on the trip.

I started off the day of the drive a little later than expected.  But really, if you are leaving at 4a or 415a, it is still early.  Who cares about 15 minutes??  I drove into Chicago to pick up Adele and after a stop at Starbucks around the corner from her place, we were on our way.

We made it out of the city without any problems.  It was early, so no rush hour calamities.  But the fog was intense.  And it kept going with us through Ohio.  Not great, fog.  I only drove into Indiana...maybe Ohio.  When we stopped for a quick pit stop, Adele asked if she could drive.  She was in the mood and doesn't drive often.  Done.  She also asked if I minded if she drove into Canada.  Ummm...feel free.  Drive as much as you want.  Especially when it comes to a big city.  I hate driving in big cities in general.  She loves it.  Kind of a match made in heaven.

Before we knew it, we were outside of Buffalo.  Where we had to stop for wings.  So we found the Anchor Bar and stopped for a late lunch.  The Anchor Bar was where Buffalo Wings originated.  So we had to try them.  Well, Adele did.  I don't like Buffalo Wings, so I had an Italian Sausage sandwich.  The sandwich wasn't bad at all.  But here's my thought on the bar.  A tourist attraction means you (should) make enough money to keep your restaurant updated.  A dingy bathroom is not appropriate for any restaurant.  And there are no excuses if you're selling Anchor Bar t-shirts next to the hostess stand.  I shouldn't have to deal with a toilet that shakes when you pop a squat.  "Tradition" or "Ambiance" doesn't mean you are exempt from taking care of your place.  There were a lot of rooms in your establishment and you were busy on a Friday afternoon...well past lunchtime.  You bring in a bunch of people each day based on who you are and not based on your food (I will say, I enjoyed my meal, but...).  Step it up a little.

Thirty minutes or so after we left the Anchor Bar, we were in line at the border crossing.  We had decided to stay on the Canadian side of Niagara, so we had to get there first.  Step #1 was to pay the $3.50 toll on the Rainbow Bridge.  Step #2 was to get past Customs.  We talked to a very personable Canadian Dude.  He asked if we had any weapons.  No.  Any pepper spray or mace??  Adele realized she did have pepper spray.  I turned into a stammering idiot when he asked if I had the same thing.  "No.  Not that.  None of that.  I wouldn't have that.  Or weapons.  No weapons.  Why would I have weapons??  Why am I still talking??"  He gave us a yellow paper and told us to go into the parking lot for someone to take care of the pepper spray.  I'm surprised that my babbling didn't set off another red flag.  Adele went into the building with her pepper spray and came out with her own silly adventure involving paperwork, a pepper spray incident, and no paperwork.

We had gone back and forth on the hotel.  Where do we stay??  Should it be away from the falls??  How much is too much??  We ended up at the Sheraton on the Falls.  It was right on the main drag and had views of the falls.  We didn't want to pony up an extra $100 for the falls view, so we went with the cheapest room.  Why spend more when you aren't spending any time in the room??  Plus, we were only going to be in Niagara for the night.  The desk clerk did upgrade us to a city view.  So that was nice.  We left our car with the valet, cause parking...what an insane drama.  People were swarming everywhere and we didn't want to deal with the crazy.

Another Niagara View...
I had no preconceived notions about what Niagara would entail.  But I did expect one thing.  I expected there would be the sideshow like we see in Wisconsin Dells.  Or Orlando.  The upside down house.  The wax museum.  The touristy, touristy, touristy things.  And boy did Niagara not disappoint on that one.  We drove through the Grand Central Station of kitsch on our way to the hotel (Clifton Street...if you want to visit this street or avoid it at all costs).  Adele was a bit more shocked about what we saw.  I wasn't surprised, but it was a lot to take after a long drive.  We did completely ignore this portion of Niagara, so if you were waiting for a review of the Rainforest Cafe or the Hershey're not gonna get it here.

The view from right outside of our hotel.  Well...down the street from our hotel...
It was a bit later in the day, and we didn't have a ton of time in Niagara as it was, so we dropped our crap in the hotel and went exploring.  The hotel was in a prime location.  You cross the street and the falls are RIGHT THERE.  We knew we were going to do the Maid of the Mist boat ride in the morning, but we wanted to find it first.  Easy.  And it was a surprise that everything was so walkable.  You never know on some of the maps.  Things sometimes look close, but are very much not.

My first impression of the falls was less than ideal.  I expected them to be...bigger, somehow??  I mean, they were big and beautiful, but I thought they would be more??  It wasn't until I kept watching them (and from different angles) that they began to make an impression.  On the Canadian side of the falls, there is a spot near the end of the street (where we would ultimately buy our ticket for the Behind the Falls Walk) where you saw very closely where the falls began.  That is where the impressiveness started to build up.  The power was something else.

Our lunch was pretty late today, so neither of us were super hungry.  But we knew we wanted to sit down with a glass of wine, while watching the falls (which illuminated at night).  We stopped at the Concierge before we went exploring the falls.  He recommended a few places, but said the restaurant in the hotel had a great view of the falls and was quite good.  We decided to see for ourselves and made our way upstairs.  We perused the menu and view and decided it worked for us.  It might have been the best decision we made on the trip.

The restaurant was Windows.  A chef (assuming Celebrity Chef in Canada) by the name of Jamie Kennedy (not the one you're thinking of) created this concept for the hotel.  It was all sustainable food and wines and very tasty looking. When we went back to the restaurant for our reservation, we had decided to get a bottle of wine.  It's basic math at this point.  You're going to get two glasses each.  It's cheaper to buy the bottle than it is to buy four glasses of wine.  So we asked for the sommelier.  April was super friendly and was able to figure out a bottle of red wine that worked for a lighter/fruitier fan (me) and a fuller-bodied/deeper fan (Adele).  April knocked this one out of the park.  She found a local Pinot Noir that was amazing.  We couldn't stop raving about it, so we decided to really put her to the test.

Local Wine.  It was glorious.
We knew there was a wine region in the area.  Though I think by saying we knew about this, we're stretching the truth a bit.  We had discovered there was wine here.  But we didn't know how extensive it would be.  Our plan for Friday was to drive to Toronto, but through wine country, and with many stops.  So we asked April...what do you recommend??  Where should we stop.  She paused for a minute and said she would think about it and let us know.  Not a problem.  We had a bottle of wine, a cheese plate coming and a terrine awaiting us.  

April came out a bit later with a sheet of paper and a list of all of the places to go.  About five or six wineries.  And one had arrows pointing to it  with smiley faces.  There was also a note that said "Staff's Choice."  So she got the whole back room helping out on this one.  Nice.  We talked a little more and she asked where we were going to dinner in Toronto.  We told her and she did a fist pump.  At this point, we knew we were in good hands.

We finished up the wine and got a last look at the falls at night, then promptly went to bed.  We'd had a big day.  And tomorrow was going to be another one.



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