There’s a popular old adage that sums up Toronto as ‘like New York run by the Swiss’. I’m not sure how that came about, but after two visits to Canada’s capital of cool, I’d actually say that it has much more in common with Boston than New York City.
Toronto is a fun place, with lots of good stuff going on. But it is not the dynamic, 24/7 metropolis that New York is. This is no criticism; far from it. From my point of view, it’s just simply putting the city in its proper perspective.
Obviously, the CN Tower is a must do. Even for someone who gets vertigo sitting on the edge of a kerb (yup, yours truly) the views from the top of the slowly revolving restaurant, some twelve hundred feet up, were absolutely thrilling.
I wasn’t overly impressed by the food, but of course the real feast was being able to sit there, wining and dining, and watching the city far below your feet come alive in a neon blaze that flooded the horizon as far as you could see. Incredibly, there’s a wine cellar at that same level that contains no less than nine thousand bottles.
You can also go and stand on the glass floor (I declined, obviously), and the ascent and descent via the seemingly rocket propelled glass lifts on the outside of the tower is not for the faint of heart, either. But as an overall experience, it was still hugely enjoyable.
I also loved the shopping on Yonge Street- the exchange rate was decent at the time- and I also loved the fact that there are so many lakes actually flanking the edges of the city itself. Toronto is cool, clean and civilised but, inevitably, it’s greatest claim to fame means you have to leave the city behind.
The journey out to Niagara Falls means passing through the genteel, chocolate box pretty region of Niagara on The Lake. It’s all kitschy, clapboard houses, with horse drawn carriages clopping past sturdy front porches, and window boxes overflowing with spectacularly vibrant blooms. The region even brews it’s own, totally individual ice wine. This is truly an acquired taste and, sorry to say, I didn’t acquire it.
But I did enjoy my helicopter foray out over the Falls, and hugely at that. This was even more surprising as I had to steel myself to make the ascent- that whole ‘heights’ thing again- and, of course, the entire front canopy of the ‘copter is constructed completely of perspex. But, once we got airborne, I was so enraptured of the staggering views of the Horseshoe Falls in particular, that I forgot my fears, and just snapped happily away.
The entire flight lasted around six minutes, but it actually felt a whole lot longer. There was a lunch break in Niagara itself, a town so monumentally tacky and characterless that no words are truly derisory enough to do it justice. The best view of the town is when it is covered in the mist that often blankets this region. A Godsend in more ways than just one.
From there, it was time to see the Falls close up. Clad in a very fetching waterproof poncho, I took one of the fleet of Maid of The Mist boats that bumble out to the edges of the Falls themselves.
At water level, the noise is indescribable. It’s a dull, muffled, continuous roar as a torrent of swirling grey water, flecked white with foam, thunders out over the precipice, and into the teeming maelstrom that we were bobbing along on. A fine, drizzly mist hung in the humid air like a damp blanket that slowly overwhelmed everything in its path. It’s a spellbinding little foray-completely safe- and it takes you over and also shows you the American side of the Falls. I was gobsmacked to see people actually walking along a path alongside the waterfront. They must have been drenched.
Later, back up on the green fields of the ever lovely Niagara, I watched like an awestruck kid as a gorgeous, graceful rainbow arced over the thundering miasma down below. I think it just took me by surprise, but it was just such a warm, uniquely wonderful moment. As if the Gods were smiling on this day of stunning sights and high adventure.