A Travellerspoint blog


Day 19

snow 1 °C
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Tuesday 27 Dec 2011

First order of the day was checking the weather forecast. Tuesday was sounding better than Wednesday for any trips roundabout so we opted to head into Toronto today to visit Casa Loma.

We had to feed the birds before we left – it’s an amazing sensation to have a little chickadee perch on the side of your hand for a few seconds before grabbing a sunflower seed and flitting back into the trees.

It was snowing in the Orton area when we left, however the snow had turned to rain by the time we arrived at our destination. Casa Loma is a castle that was built by Sir Henry Pellatt as a place where he and his wife could host Canadian society and visiting royalty in the style to which he thought they should be entertained. He had made millions as a visionary entrepreneur and business man in the early part of his life. However the building of Casa Loma ran way over budget (the budget blew out from about $250,000 to $3,500,000) and Sir Henry suffered financial misfortunes associated with the stock market crash of 1929, which meant he was unable to keep the place. His early life seemed to be blessed – he invested in the right things at the right time, and he was energetic, hard-working and generous. He married his childhood sweetheart and together they made a positive difference to Canada. He was instrumental in changing Toronto street lighting from gas to electric and in electrifying the street car system. His wife built up the Guides movement from a few hundreds to many thousands of participants. However, Casa Loma was their home for only ten years before financial misfortune began to overtake Sir Henry. The City of Toronto claimed Casa Loma as payment of back taxes, and in 1936 the Kiwanis took over running it as a tourist attraction, as it has been ever since.

The place is massive and must have been very beautiful when the Pellatt’s lived and entertained in it. The ceiling of the conservatory is very striking, and the shapes of the rooms at the other end of the house lend themselves to ornate decor. Visitors today can wander at will in certain parts of it, including the tunnel that connected the nearby stables, another lavish building, with the house. The tiling on the walls of the carriage room in the stables, and the accommodation for the horses, show how important this part of the estate was also.
We had to make a quick detour to Union Station on our way home so Robyn and I could exchange our vouchers for actual train tickets for the continuation of our Canadian adventure on Thursday.

On the way home we were soon in snow again – I’m glad I was not driving. The flakes just come at you in a different way from rain and the edges of the road disappear as the snow sticks and blurs the boundaries.

We ended up having another late night – sat up playing Euchre which I have not played for a long time, and was never any good at anyway. Same again – Colleen and I were soundly beaten by Robyn and Zoli, but it was a lot of fun.

Posted by jrp_pedal 04:14 Archived in Canada Tagged toronto_casa_loma Comments (1)

Niagara Falls

Day 18

sunny 4 °C
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Monday 26 Dec 2011

We had a deadline this morning – first one for some days. We had to be out of the house by 11am and on the road to Niagara Falls via Hamilton. Colleen and Zoli had an prior engagement so left Robyn and I with some friends of theirs in Hamilton. Lovely location for a home, close to parks and to Dundurn Castle. The castle wasn’t open but we walked over and had a look anyway. It was a beautiful sunny day, very mild at about 4 °C – no snow or frost in sight here; very uncharacteristic by all accounts.

Later, our hosts drove us to rendezvous with Colleen and Zoli, taking us past ‘steel city’ where all the steel manufacturing takes place. I had never seen anything like it – pipes going everywhere, chimneys sending up clouds of steam – acres of it.

From there we headed straight for Niagara Falls. I had been there before but was thoroughly stunned all over again by the sheer volume of water pouring over every second. The continuity and size of it is mind-blowing. We were so lucky to have a clear day for our visit there. Robyn and I went behind the falls as well – a little uncanny to think of all that water above us as we walked through the tunnels to where we could see the back of the falls and really experience the thunder and the power of the water.

Sunset arrived while we were still looking and exclaiming, so we had a lovely view of the night sky - a tiny slice of moon - and of the ‘parade of lights’ - Christmas lights depicting many and varied scenes from mounted police to an ice rink, all of which could be seen looking landward from the promenade beside the river. We took a walk up the street of amusements, all garish lights like a giant sideshow alley, with Ripley’s Believe it or Not, Guinness Book of Records display, a haunted house ride and many more.

From there we drove to Niagara-on-the-Lake, a lovely historic town (with some very up-market real estate) where Colleen and Zoli had booked a table for dinner at the Olde Angel Inn – a very English pub with good, solid English fare on the menu. It’s a delightful old place with all sorts of interesting décor – horse brasses nailed along the beams, and plaques on the walls advertising such things as sale of goods from wrecked ships, and positions vacant for seamen.

We walked along the main street afterwards, window shopping – luckily the shops were shut at that hour; some of the goods looked very tempting, especially a leather handbag decorated with poppies and butterflies; I could see myself carrying that.

A wonderful way to spend Boxing Day!

Posted by jrp_pedal 05:37 Archived in Canada Tagged niagara_falls Comments (1)


Day 17 Christmas Day

overcast 1 °C
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Sunday 25 Dec 2011

Got to stop having these late nights and lie-ins. Needless to say, after last night we were all a bit slow this morning. The birds were all up and about before us. It’s lovely to see what a blue jay and a red cardinal actually look like. I’ve seen them mentioned in north American literature, however, until you actually see them you have no point of reference for size and shape. The squirrels were out there too helping themselves to seed. The red squirrels are quite small and have a distinctive broad area of rust coloured fur on their back and tail; greys are slightly bigger and the black ones, bigger still. I’m coming to see what a pest they are, and understand why some people refer to them as ‘the rats of the trees’.

After a late brunch/early lunch we ladies went for a drive to pay a Christmas visit to Colleen’s mum, and then to see some more of the beautiful countryside. Mennonites (a religious sect that favours non-mechanised ways of farming and what we regard as old-fashioned clothing) have settled in this area and we were hoping to see some of them in their distinctive horses and buggies. Saw the horses and the buggies but not together. We also saw some wild turkeys – incredible to think that the bird on the table last night was developed from these.

Back home, we took a walk to where the original house on Colleen’s and Zoli’s land is located. It was far too near the river, though in a very picturesque spot, and flooding was a problem. As we were walking back it began snowing again so Robyn got her wish of snow on Christmas day.

Posted by jrp_pedal 05:23 Archived in Canada Comments (0)


Day 16 - Christmas Eve

sunny 2 °C
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Saturday 24 Dec 2011

It’s so good to be staying in a house rather than a hotel, and Colleen’s and Zoli’s house is so comfortable. The setting, surrounded by trees, is lovely too. Colleen has bird feeders and the chickadees will take seed from her hand. They are little birds, very fast as they whirr in and out of the branches.

There is a boardwalk down to the river, The Grand River, and we went down to check out the scenery (picturesque) and the amount of ice on it (increasing).

We still had a few items to get for the Christmas festivities in the evening, so had a guided tour of the area while we made our way to Fergus and Elora (towns in the area). It’s farming land here and we could see the farmhouses and barns and ploughed fields under their light covering of snow. The land around here is undulating so every so often when driving the road tops a rise and you have a great view of the surrounding countryside.

We took so long over our errands, and a tasty lunch of crepes, that we were a bit rushed when we got home. Robyn and I had sent a ‘pavlova egg’ over earlier in a parcel, and we wanted to make an pavlova for the evening’s dessert to go with the turkey and vegetables that Colleen was preparing. In a departure from the usual tradition of the big meal on Christmas day, we had it on Christmas Eve because that is when the guests (Zoli’s brother and girlfriend, and Zoli’s daughter) were able to be there.

It was a wonderful meal, amazingly unspoilt by all the cooks that took part in the preparations. The turkey was done to perfection, the vegetables and salad plentiful, the pavlova turned out well, and the wine flowed freely. There was still snow on the ground and a little more fell early in the evening so we had a white Christmas.

Afterwards, it was gift opening time. Lots of ooh, aahs, thanks and Christmas hugs. Robyn and I were surprised and delighted to receive some distinctly Canadian gifts. We had brought some Australian things to give, including a couple of DVDs, which unfortunately are region specific (Region 4 and need to be Region 1) – something that annoys me; surely if they were made universal, sales would increase.

An added treat for me was talking to both my daughters via a Skype conference call – incredible that we can be in 3 so separate locations and have a conversation like that.

A game of trivia (what was the question again?) finished off a marvellous day of frivolity and fellowship. (I still maintain Colleen, Zoli and Robyn got all the easy questions.)

Posted by jrp_pedal 05:19 Archived in Canada Comments (1)


Day 15

sunny -3 °C
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Friday 23 Dec 2011

After a good sleep on a comfy bed we heard a little miaow at the door – the cats had come to say good morning - sleek black with a tiny white bib, and a beautiful smoky blue-grey with a question-mark tail. Lovely friendly moggies. We managed to see Jeremy and say good-bye to him as he went to work as we would most likely be gone in the afternoon before he came home.

Gough Ave is in the Greek area of town and Phoebe’s and Jeremy’s other daughter Renn had told us to look for a Greek bakery for brunch. We bundled up and set off in the sunshine – a beautifully clear day but the wind was stinging-cold. However, we braved the elements and found the Athens Bakery which was warm with fresh baking. (It really is all about the food.)

Thus fortified, we ventured underground onto the subway, using the map Phoebe had lent us. Our goal was the Bata Shoe Museum, however we found the Royal Ontario Museum first. It’s an extraordinary looking building – an ultra-modern entrance (called The Crystal, we found out) has been constructed onto the front of the old building. It’s ingenious how the two have been connected inside but it seems the people of Toronto are not so sure it’s a good thing.

The entrance fee for the ROM was a bit beyond our budget so we crossed the street to the Museum of Ceramic Art – entry was free after 4pm on Fridays there but we were too early for that so took a look in the their gift shop. It was full of beautiful things, including jewellery (I’ve now replaced a pair of the gold earrings that were stolen from me last June), and we got chatting with the two lovely ladies who were the volunteers on duty for the day. They very kindly indeed gave us a couple of free passes to the museum – we have met with such exceptional generosity here. The exhibits were marvellous – the history of bone china all over the world, early ceramics from south America, and a special exhibit of household and ceremonial china from the Tsars of Russia, some of which was very opulently decorated and gilded.

After feasting our eyes there, we went on to the Bata Shoe Museum (these places are all within a block or two of each other) where we had to pay only one entry fee because the ticket printed out at the Ceramics Museum gave us a two for one deal at Bata. What an amazing place – a whole display devoted to the 1920s when shoes became much more ornamental and a fashion statement for European women, rather than something utilitarian hidden by skirts. Another display was made up of shoes (some signed) of famous people such as Roger Federer, Pierce Brosnan, Judy Garland, Liz Taylor, Elton John, Shaquille O’Neal (a very big basketball boot), Queen Victoria (a very small silk slipper), and Justin Bieber (a young Canadian singer, I believe; quite popular with young people). Indigenous Canadians were well-represented and the exhibits showed off their craftsmanship. Shoes through the ages and from different cultures had us speculating on how certain customs arose (for example, foot binding in China).

We left the museum in a hurry after an SMS from Phoebe advising that Colleen (my friend with whom we were to stay for Christmas) was on her way to collect us.

We were lucky enough to catch Phoebe at home before she dashed off on another pre-Christmas errand (leaving Renn in charge) so we could say good-bye and thank them for having us.

Colleen arrived and we had a joyful reunion – it’s been just over a year since she left my place in Queensland after her year of study at USC. I guess you can imagine how it went with 3 women in the car – such fun. Colleen lives outside of Toronto in the country – she has a beautiful home with her husband Frank and dog Skyler, and we sat up far too late probably, drinking eggnog and talking, talking, talking.

Posted by jrp_pedal 05:43 Archived in Canada Tagged toronto Comments (2)

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