Today was a very, very long travel day, although it shouldn’t have been. I woke early – much earlier than I needed to, in fact. After breakfast, Min drove me into Chepstow to catch the 7.55am bus to Heathrow. The bus was 25 minutes late, which didn’t matter too much as I had allowed plenty of time, but proved to be the auger of things to come. The weather was revolting – pouring with rain and grey.
From the bus station, I had a long walk into the very smart Terminal 2 building and checked in very quickly and easily. After going through security etc, I spent the next 3 or so hours reading and having lunch. I then had a very long walk to the gate, where passengers were still being loaded when we were due to take off.
After sitting on the plane for a while, an announcement was made that there would be a delay as they were looking for some baggage belonging to a person who hadn’t turned up. I suspect it actually belonged to the Indian family whose baby was screaming on the air bridge whilst we were boarding and whom the crew had decided was too sick to travel.
We eventually took off 2 hours late, at which point I knew there was no chance of catching the connecting flight in Montreal. At least, there were a lot of flights to Toronto City. My neighbour was flying onto L.A. and had half an hour to catch her flight, after which there wasn’t another until tomorrow morning.
Whilst the crew were in the middle of the food and beverage service and just before they reached my row, there was a call for a doctor to cope with a medical emergency. This was later followed by a call for a nurse. For some reason, this totally disrupted the food service. Air Canada obviously couldn’t deal with medical emergencies as well as food so the drinks trolley was left within a tantalising distance from me and I was tempted to help myself!
Half the plane seemed to have missed connecting flights and, as you have to clear customs in Montreal and claim and re-check your bag, there was quite a delay. I was booked onto another flight 2 hours after my original one and, once we were all seated on the small propellor plane, it was announced that we were waiting for some baggage handlers to load the luggage. We took off 20 minutes late.
I finally arrived in Toronto, where Robyn was waiting for me, at 10pm local time and 3am body clock time, at which point I was almost comatose. Luckily, she had already checked into the guest house, knew exactly how to get there and carried my back pack for me! The trip involved a 2 minute ferry ride, a metro and a bus to get to the accommodation, all of which I undertook in a trance like state. Thank goodness she was there! Bed has never been so welcome!
We had a very leisurely start to the morning. There was no way I could have rushed after the trials of yesterday. Breakfast was somewhat random, with coffee and melon at a cafe and takeaway coffee and pastries from the bakery. Coffee is outrageously expensive and most places have filter coffee, of which I am very wary.
Being suitably replete and feeling sick from the pastries, we caught the bus down to the waterfront and then walked towards the city. It was a beautiful day and we thoroughly enjoyed ambling along watching the people and activities.
As the clouds seemed to be assembling in the previously blue sky, we decided to go up the CN Tower whilst it was still clear. Robyn had been up it the previous day and done the Edgewalk, which is, quite literally, hanging off the edge of the observation deck and not an activity for the faint hearted! We spent quite some time up on the skypod, which is another 34 floors above the main observation area and were able to look down on the edgewalkers below, as well as have a magnificent view of Toronto, of course.
By the time we had returned to the ground floor and watched a film about the trams (very photographic and non informational), it was mid afternoon and we decided we needed lunch. Robyn had noted a particular restaurant the day before, so we went there and had an excellent meal right on the waterfront, with a view of both the city and Toronto Island. This came with an occasional waft of aviation fuel as the planes landed across the narrow stretch of water between us and the airport. The restaurant was also a brewery, so our food was accompanied by 4 sample glasses of different beers, one of which was raspberry flavoured and one bore a marked resemblance to orange juice and lemonade.
Feeling quite tired, we didn’t want to do much more walking or return to the room, so we opted for getting the ferry across to Toronto Island. These go to 3 different points and we went on the first one that departed, which happened to have stops on both the eastern and western sides of the island, so it was a very scenic ride with a lot of people and a lot of bicycles.
We disembarked at the second stop at the western end which, with hindsight, was not a good choice, as it was adjacent to the airport and therefore very noisy. However, we had a bit of a stroll and sat and watched the boats for a while before heading back to the ferry, which was absolutely jam packed with people. It can also take vehicles but I have no idea where they would fit them!
Afterwards, we caught the bus back to our room, stopping for fruit and snacks along the way. We spent the rest of the evening blobbing and feeling exhausted but happy after an excellent day.
Today was Total Tourist Day. Hideous, but sometimes it just has to be done! We had decided to go to Niagara Falls. Robyn had been there before but thought she would wait for me to pay for her to go on the boat trip. She also wanted to leave early as, when she went with her friend, they didn’t arrive until the afternoon and it was packed with people. (Surprise, suprise!)
We booked the Greyhound bus and had to be at the bus station an hour beforehand to pick up the ticket. This meant arriving by 8.15am. We arrived, there was no queue and we then had an hour to spare for a leisurely breakfast at a nearby cafe. At this point, we also realised that we didn’t have any passports with us, Robyn having left hers in Montreal and me having left mine in the room. Not exactly good forward planning!
Naturally, we then didn’t watch the time and had to rush back to the bus station where we discovered that the bus had been over booked. Along with a number of others, we were put on a different bus that was going to the States, and which then had to detour to Niagara. The people at the next stop, who had booked seats, were not happy when they had to stand the whole way to Niagara, this bus now also being overbooked. Travel was not going well this week and it deteriorated even further on the way back.
We eventually arrived in Niagara at 11.15am, somewhat later than scheduled, and caught a local bus from the bus station to Clifton Hill, one of the main tourist areas of Niagara Falls. Commercialism was at its height and the place was absolutely ghastly!
We had a short walk around and then immediately bought tickets to go on the ‘Hornblower’ boat, which does trips every 15 minutes from the Canadian side of the Falls. The ‘Maid of the Mist’ leaves from the American side but, of course, we couldn’t cross the bridge without passports.
Suitably clad in bright red ponchos, which were definitely required at the Horseshoe Falls, we boarded, and shoved small children out of the way so we could get a place by the railing. It wasn’t as packed as we had anticipated and it was quite interesting to get so close to the foot of the falls. The noise was terrific and the volume of water going over the edge was phenomenal. However, to me, the commercialism totally detracts from the magnificence of the falls themselves.
After the short (very short) boat trip, we spent the rest of the day wandering along the river and admiring the view, on the Canadian side, of course. We also stopped several times and sat on the grass to watch the people, the volume of which thinned out, once we had walked further than the edge of the Horseshoe Falls and up the river a little way.
On our way back to catch the bus, we stopped at the IHop pancake restaurant, which is part of a chain and one to which Robyn had been before. After a chicken crepe (unfortunately, bearing no resemblance to the galette or crepes in France), we caught the bus back to the bus station and waited, along with many others for the bus to arrive.
Buses came and went but not ours. When it did, an hour late, there was almost a riot as people tried to push their way on. It transpired that the 3.30pm bus had either not arrived or been overbooked, so people had been waiting even longer than us. There were a number of Indians amongst the crowd and, I would have to say, they were very experienced pushers! The bus driver was quite sharp with people and attempted to be fair but I am not too keen to travel with Greyhound again after today’s experiences.
We arrived back in Toronto at 8.30pm and then got a tram (or, should I say, cable car?) and had a short walk back to our room, where both of us were keen to go straight to bed!
We were heading to Montreal today and Robyn had arranged a ride share with some random person on the internet whom we were to meet at 12pm at Scarborough, which is about an hour’s metro journey from where we were staying in Cabbagetown.
Originally, we had thought of being active in the morning. However, that didn’t quite happen so we walked down the road and had brunch instead. The neighbourhood is very ‘local’ and we picked a cafe that looked ‘local’. Having sat by the open window, the lady next to us said that she was sitting there last week and a person walking by had snatched the sandwich off her plate! She was very philosophical about it. We ate eggs benedict/florentine with a fairly lurid hollandaise sauce and then had to rush back to pack and get to the metro.
We arrived in Scarborough and were met by a Taiwanese man named Cliff, who had just completed his university studies in Montreal. He was in quite a rush as he had finished work in Toronto at 11.45am and had to be at a university prom dinner in Montreal at 6pm. This is called a very tight timeframe. We found out that he was driving back to Toronto after the dinner so that he could do a skydive with a friend at Niagara at midday tomorrow. I think there was something wrong with his head.
When I queried the noise from the back, he said it was the road and, in fact, his shock absorbers weren’t that good either. Also, he had had a flat tyre the previous week and so had odd tyres on the car. Hmm….. We picked up another lady somewhere or other and reached Montreal at 5.55pm, stopping once for petrol and toilets (or, more correctly, gas and washrooms). The air conditioning didn’t quite work and I spent quite a chunk of the journey, sitting in the sun getting hotter and hotter (and, it goes without saying, grumpier and grumpier). Sometimes, I wander if some things are false economy! It was a very long journey along a very flat straight road with greenery on either side.
On arrival at our appointed dropping off place, we took the metro to Robyn’s flat, which she shares with an Algerian man and a French woman. There was also an Algerian friend staying and the arrival of Robyn’s French friend, Clara, whom she had met in Waihi, added to the ambience. This resulted in a very entertaining evening (helped, in my case, by several glasses of wine) as they all switched between French and English with some of us on each side guessing what was being said when it all got too fast.
Robyn and Clara left to go to a party and I fell into bed at about 11pm to be woken at 4am when they returned.
I planned to walk around the City today so, as Robyn was starting work at 11am, I went into town with her on the metro. Her flat is at Langelier which is some way out of the centre, so it took about half an hour to get to McGill.
I called in to see her workplace (a burger bar) and met her boss and then took to the streets, first stopping at the Information Centre for a bus map, as I prefer to travel by bus when possible. After that, I wandered aimlessly around the down town area, with its many skyscrapers intermingled with older buildings. It was not very busy for some reason, perhaps because it was Labour weekend and people were out of town for the weekend.
Robyn works near McGill University and Mont Real, so I also walked around there. There were a large number of students congregating, as all schools and Universities start again this week. However, I was feeling quite tired and couldn’t be bothered to do much walking, so returned to the burger bar where I took up Robyn’s boss’s invitation for lunch.
And so it was that I had my first poutine! This is a Montreal/Quebec ‘speciality’, comprising chips (french fries) with a quantity of lumps of curd cheese on top and gravy poured over the whole lot. The taste is all in the gravy and it is not for the faint hearted or the health conscious! Apparently, there are a lot of varieties and the one I had was the basic version. Well, all I can say is that I wasn’t hungry for the rest of the day.
After this, I caught a bus whose route went around the old port and town. I got off at the end and walked some way along Ontario Street, which is much more of a ‘local’ as opposed to a tourist area, to Frontenac from where I could catch a bus back to the house. Outside the metro, someone was playing a very tinny and out of tune public piano, a number of which are apparently dotted around the city.
Having stopped at Walmart for one or two essentials, I then spent the rest of the day lounging. Only Adeline (French flatmate), was home and, as she didn’t speak any English, conversation was somewhat limited (although I did try my French!) so it was a very quiet evening. It was nearly midnight before an unhappy Robyn returned, having worked until 11pm.
The day dawned wet, grey, warm and humid, just the sort of weather I hate! Robyn had another 12 hour work shift from 11am to 11pm, so this morning I made the most of having a flat to myself, as her flatmates were also away or working.
About midday, I caught 2 buses into town and visited the Fine Arts Museum (Musee des Beaux Artes), which seemed like a good thing to do on a wet Sunday, particularly as it was the Sunday in the month when the entry was free. It houses a wide variety of artwork from Egyptian to Contemporary and it was only after I had gone through all the modern galleries (much of which was beyond my comprehension) that I realised there were some Impressionist paintings, which I could actually appreciate, philistine that I am!
By the time I left, it was becoming quite busy (I had expected it to be far more crowded than it was) and I had little enthusiasm for doing any more wandering, as the rain came down as soon as I set foot outside the door, causing me to shelter under the canopy of the Ritz, along with several others. Luckily, a bus arrived almost immediately so I hopped on to that but alighted a little prematurely and had a bit of a walk to the next bus stop. Luckily, again, by this time the rain had stopped. Unbelievably, I also got off the next bus too early, so had a bit of a walk back to the house, which was only a problem because I was starving!
The rest of the evening was very quiet and lazy. The French flatmate has given up trying to talk to me (: