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Trip Report TripReport: Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, NF

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I'm not sure how much I'll write about the trip. As this is my first trip report I'll gladly take on board any suggestions for improvements and try to answer queries.

First of all, a big thank-you to all the Fodorites who patiently answered my questions as I was planning the trip. The advice and suggestions elicited helped me to consider new ideas and uncovered inside information only locals know about! I would also like to acknowledge the help and hospitality that the locals showed me as I bumbled my way around.

A bit of background: as a high school teacher in the UK, my teaching schedule winds down in early May as my exam classes leave. This is the time when my thoughts turn to the summer holiday. I had travelled extensively around Europe and forayed into the Far East and spent last summer in the US so I was ready to try a different country and with the British pound so strong, I decided to investigate Canada. I'm a sucker for big city living so Toronto was a must-see. Looking at a map, I aimed for a twin centre break with Montreal; everyone had told me it had a wonderful charm about it. Through positive reviews and gentle encouragement, I also opted to visit Ottawa. Using Expedia I managed to find a reasonable deal for two weeks in 3/4 star hotels. My plan was to fly from Birmingham to Montreal and then use the train to visit my other destinations. I would then fly home from Toronto.

I checked in at Birmingham International Airport with KLM; the staff were friendly and efficient and security was relatively quick at eight o'clock in the morning. I had arrived in plenty of time and ended up walking circuits around the departure lounge. I would always recommend Brum over any other UK airport because it is small, accessible by public transport and easy to navigate. The plane departed on time and the snack was a biscuit and cup of tea. We landed at Amsterdam Schipol and I was able to transfer to the Montreal flight with no problems. The plane was an outdated MD-11, with TV sets hanging from the ceilings. Needless to say, I slept for the flight.

Arriving in Montreal, passport control and immigration was uneventful, though a couple of teenage lads did try to jump the queue. They were promptly sent to the back by an eagle-eyed immigration official. I always have an irrational fear I'll never be admitted into a country so I make a special point of being on my best behaviour. The man who stamped my passport was rather good looking, I hasten to add, though I fought the urge to flirt with him.

Having rescued my little suitcase, I then left the terminal building and headed straight for the Aerobus shuttle booth; it runs every 30 mins and will drop off passengers at the Aerobus station, from which a mini-bus will then transfers you to your hotel. If I recall correctly, it costs approx CD$15. I had just missed the shuttle so after a 45min wait the next one arrived. I enjoyed the ride, marvelling at people driving on 'the wrong side of the road'! Within an hour I was at my hotel, the Chateau Versailles at Rue Sherbrooke Ouest. My first impression of this boutique hotel was that I had chosen well; it was a clean, well-appointed hotel. Check-in was quick and I was given a room at the back of the building since I had requested at the time of booking a quiet room. As a result, the view was utterly forgettable, but I didn't care! I was here to discover Montreal, not sit in my room with the air-con on full blast.

My first stop after freshening up with the complimentary Crabtree and Evelyn products was to find food. Accompanied with a map that the hotel had provided, I headed to Rue St Catherine Ouest. There were many restaurants but I opted for a coffee place called Second Cup. Jet lag was going to hit me soon so I retired for the evening.

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    Thanks, SusanInToronto! As I said earlier, this is my first trip report so I wasn't sure if I was doing it correctly / giving Fodorites something worthwhile to read.

    Day Two
    Early next morning I ventured down into the breakfast room; the cold buffet with pastries, cereal and fruit was filling and I drank copious amounts of tea. First stop was Vieux Montreal. I decided to take the Metro, obtaining a three day card for about CD$18. Arriving at Place d'Armes, I simply followed the small gathering of tourists and took a gentle stroll to the Basilique Notre-Dame. It was an overcast morning so I entered the Basilica and was greatly surprised by the vast interior; the ceiling is covered in stars, giving the appearance of sitting underneath the open night-sky. The giant wooden mouldings above the vaults are painted in vibrant colours and the gorgeous ceiling windows flood the interior with light. Since it was still so early, the place was incredibly peaceful with only a few photographers. A tour was scheduled so I joined it. The speaker told us, with much affection, the history of not only the building, but also of Montreal itself. As a teacher, I'm often frustrated by my kids who only seem to recall inane facts about previous lessons. I'm ashamed to say I can only remember the guide telling us that Celine Dion got married here.

    I ambled along Rue St Sulphice and did a little bit of window shopping. I found Rue St Paul to be very pretty. Marche Bonsecours turned out to be a rather expensive and full of art galleries. By this point I was getting hungry so opted for Eggspectation. After a long walk in the rain I made it to the restaurant only to be completely underwhelmed by the service. I consoled myself that the meal wasn't that bad and perhaps if I came again I would get an experience similar to other Fodorites, who had recommended it. I made a mental note to try it out again later.

    After a quick rest back at the hotel I walked along Rue St Denis, soaking up the atmosphere. From there I took the Metro to Jean Talon and that's where I got completely lost. To this day, I still cannot fathom how I completely missed the large market and ended up in a shopping plaza filled with wedding dress! I felt like I'd walked miles that afternoon, getting more and more lost with each turn. Instead of authentic Italian gelato I ended up in the middle of a quiet suburb, walking past signs offering to rid me of cellulite. Finally admitting defeat (and sore feet), I entered a printing shop where the young lady behind the counter carefully drew a map and guided me back to the metro. I profusely thanked her kindness. Frustrated at my own stupidity and inability to use my mental compass, I promised myself a long, hot bath and a slap-up meal. The only problem was getting past the ticket barriers at the metro station. My three day travel card could not be accepted by any of the machines at the gates and there was no one on duty to open a barrier for me. What was I to do? I decided to buy a single ticket and put that through the machine. A message came up in French, which I assume meant, "You ain't getting through, missy!" A couple of helpful old ladies tried to help but they could only suggest I buy another single ticket. I spotted a phone and called the attendant on duty. Unfortunately for me, he only spoke French. I turned back to the barriers. The old ladies were nowhere in sight, but a couple of men were hanging around, close to the barrier. Without even thinking, I got down on my hands and knees and crawled under the barrier. Getting back up on the other side, I wiped my hands clean and turned to be met by the men staring at me with their mouths open. I felt like I should explain my predicament but could only offer a shrug of the shoulders and then I casually went to my platform. I was in no mood for a slap up meal now.

    Well, every cloud has a silver lining, and my silver lining was in the guise of a Tom Horton's coffee shop. At last, I'd found the fabled Canadian establishment other Fodorites had talked about and ordered a soup. It was cheap, hot and filling. Surely the next day would be more successful?


    Day three
    Another early start after breakfast took me to Oratoire St Joseph. Mindful of yesterday's disastrous outing, when I arrived at Cotes des Nieges Metro, I immediately turned right. Then I turned back and walked in the opposite direction and found the Oratory with no problems.

    It was a beautifully sunny morning with few tourists or pilgrims. I spent the morning there, walking around the grounds, the Votive Chapel and the Frere Andre exhibition, which displays his heart. Some followers claim it has twitched in their presence. It didn't when I watched it. A bus ride back to the hotel was a good way to see a little bit more of Montreal and hear the native slipping between French and English in their conversations.

    I'd brought a couple of pastries and fruit from the breakfast buffet and took these with me to the Olympic Park. From the metro I followed the signs to the tower, and circled part of the Olympic stadium. Eventually, I arrived at the tourist hall where I purchased a ticket for Tour de Montreal and the Biodome. I'm sorry I can't remember the combined price. The ride up the world's tallest inclined tower was fun and I spent the time clicking my camera and joining the others saying "Ohh! Ahh!". At the top is a lookout centre giving excellent views of Montreal. A few purchases in the gift shop (which turned out to be reasonably priced) and I was ready for lunch. I ate outside the Biodome and enjoyed the sunshine. The Biodome is a converted velodrome and contains four different ecosystems. I was able to wander around the flora and fauna filled zones, which included a tropical rainforest with many exotic birds, a Laurentian forest and a marine ecosystem. The polar zone was the best and I enjoyed watching the penguins waddle around. There was even some yellow snow I got to snigger at!
    Having been up the tower, I opted against visiting the Jardine Botanique de Montreal and instead travelled to Chinatown. The area was busy with street markets and early diners looking for a meal. My guidebook had recommended a Chinese restaurant closer to my hotel so I went to Pret A Manger on the corner of Rue St Catherine Ouest and Rue St Mathieu. The food was tasty and the service excellent in this no frills eatery. I had a nice conversation with the waiter who was a student at the nearby Guy Concordia University and showed him the positive review of his establishment in my guide book. He left beaming.

    Day Four
    Feeling a bit tired after the early mornings, I started the day at Parc Jean Drapeau, the two islands across from the Vieux-Port, thinking fresh air might help. At Ile St Helene I visited the tourist stand where I was directed to go over the bridge to see Ile Notre-Dame. I spent a couple of hours there, enjoying the scenery and watching people skate and cycle by. A dragon-boat competition was underway but I skipped that. I returned to Ile St Helene and visited the Biosphere, the geodesic dome which houses an interactive centre based on the environment. Entrance cost about CD$10 but by showing my metro card I obtained a 25% discount. I particularly enjoyed the excellent views of Montreal and the Water hall, which allowed the inner child in me to soak nearby visitors as I played with a tipping toilet and tried to walk on water.

    After lunch (again from the hotel breakfast buffet), I headed over to Place Ville Marie, enjoying the architecture of IM Pei. A wedding was taking place at Cathedrale Marie Reine du Monde and many tourists were standing on the opposite side of the road taking snapshots of the wedding party. I walked over to the Gare Centale to inspect it prior to the next stage of my journey and then did a little shopping for the rest of the afternoon. Dinner was at the Europa bar and restaurant, a five minute walk from my hotel. The waitress was extremely friendly and since the restaurant was quiet and I was alone, she engaged in a long conversation about Montreal, its inhabitants and how she arrived here from Eastern Europe. The warm apple strudel was fantastic and I recommend it with vanilla ice-cream.

    Day Five
    This was my last full day in Montreal so I decided to climb Mount Royal. Armed with a bottle of water, a chocolate bar, sunscreen and my favourite trainers, I had a truly enjoyable walk. The views were breath-taking and everyone either said hello or nodded as they power-walked by. It felt like a very friendly place and quite often as I stopped to admire the views, someone would offer to take my photo. I entered at Avenue des Pins and emerged somewhere near Avenue du Parc, missing the Chalet, Cross and Sir George Etienne Cartier Monument. Oh dear, my mental compass had gone crazy, again! Nevertheless, I was satisfied with my morning's acitivity.

    After showering and resting so my feet recovered, I then made my way to Musee des Beaux Arts, which I very much enjoyed. The collections are vast and I spent about three hours there; highlights included the Inuit carvings and Picasso's Embrace because it was a bit rude!

    Dinner was at Cine Express, which was a bit of a let down; it seemed to serve the usually burger and fries combo and I guess I should have explored alternative places.

    Day Six
    Having packed, I opted for a final wander around my neighbourhood. I window-shopped and took a few last pictures before heading off to Gare Centrale to get the train to Ottawa. One thing I really liked about the station was the check-in kiosk; I simply waved my booking form under the light and my tickets were issued. The whole process took less than 30 seconds. I then settled by the staircase to my platform and watched the world go by.

    My overall thoughts of Montreal is that it is a vibrant city with plenty of olde-worlde charm. The people were warm and helpful and made me feel really welcome. I would love to visit again, but for a longer period of time and perhaps rent a car so I could explore the surrounding areas.

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    Hello Sandy; I hope you will continue your fine detailed report; I am looking forward to your impressions of Ottawa as I lived there for many years. Please don't be discouraged by lack of response to your trip report; although I know I was when I did mine several years ago and I never did finish. I can understand how it happens, especially for people who are used to some of the other international boards that seem to generate more interest. But every point of view can be important to someone else down the road. You come across as a traveller who can make the best of any situation and that is one of the benefits that can come of being an open-minded "tourist"; n'est pas?

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    From a Montrealer---

    Thanks for your trip report Sandy, and glad to hear Montrealers were warm and helpful toward you, considering we tend to have a bit of a reputation for coldness. So much of the area around is gorgeous and there's much to appreciate if you do come back and rent the car (bike excursions are great too, and what I enjoy to get out of the city!).

    Best wishes, D. Williams

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    Thank you for your kind and gentle encouragment, folks, I really do appreciate it!

    Bmacdon - in answer to your question, I would have to reply in faltering french, "Oui!" I do try to make the most of all situations, especially since I travel alone and don't have anyone to 'back me up' when things don't go according to plan. That's part of the fun of travelling, eh?

    DanielWilliams, I have been raving about Montreal non-stop since I returned to the UK and I've been encouraging people around me to go to Canada. I certainly can't wait for my next visit, which will definitely include Montreal. Carmanah, please may I go with you?!!

    SallyCanuck - I would like to thank you once again for the concise, reliable and very useful advice you gave me prior to my trip.

    Taggie, Traveljunkie28, Annetti, Tempusfigit and all here comes the Ottawa bit....enjoy!

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    Day Seven
    The train journey to Ottawa was a chance to see the countryside and I spent the entire time holding my reading book in my lap and looking out of the window. I had a single seat and the journey was smooth and quiet, unlike what I normally experience in the UK. One-nil to Canada!

    Arriving at Ottawa station, I was deposited at baggage collection. There was no super-duper electronic gateway linking me with my luggage. Instead, several employees were hauling up the baggage in metal cages; it was a bit of a free-for-all as passengers bundled themselves into the restricted area to retrieve their belongs. Thankfully, my suitcase was waiting for me.

    Thanks to the good folks at Fodors who had recommended the website www.ottawatourism.ca, I had received a visitor guide to the city. Preliminary research had allowed me to work out which bus to take to the city centre for about three dollars. The map wasn't of a very good quality and I couldn't work out how to get from the bus stop to my hotel. Wandering out of the station I ran into a taxi stand and impulsively decided to take a cab to the Novotel on Nicholas Street. After all, I'd saved a fair bit in Montreal by not buying lunch. The fare cost fifteen dollars with tip and the journey took less than five minutes. I kicked myself when I saw the bus stop was a minutes walk away from the hotel. Oh well!

    The hotel was excellent – clean, modern and the staff were courteous. Again, I had asked for a quiet room and the one reserved was on the ninth floor with views of the Byward indoor shopping centre. Oh, and a massive building site. I didn't really mind as the windows stopped most of the noise and I really liked the flat-screen TV and recently redecorated spacious room. The bathroom toiletries were a generic hotel brand but there was no shower gel at all during my visit.

    It was early evening and I fancied a wander around the local area. I tried to stay away from the tourist areas such as Parliament hill, saving that for tomorrow morning. I walked along Rideau Street, venturing further away from the prime tourist areas. As a result, the people rushing by were obviously locals making their way home and the traffic was beginning to build. No restaurants or cafes took my fancy so I cut across to George Street and entered the Byward Market. The stalls were closing up and the bars and restaurants were beginning to fill up. I'm a totall book freak so when I discovered a nearby bookstore I had to take a look.

    Whilst spending time in Chapters, a torrential downpour arrived. I had no protection so I waited inside for about half an hour for the rain to cease. Several others had the same idea and we huddled around the window watching people calmly stroll by in the pouring rain. Once the rain had stopped, I made my way to Mama Grazzi's Kitchen. As an early diner, I had the entire top floor to myself. It was a bit pricey but the service was adequate. The food was top-dollar. I ate up every last morsel of my pasta dish and then indulged in dessert. Thus, fed and dry I made my way back to hotel, taking pictures of the rainbow that seemed to magically appear.

    Day Eight
    I awoke just after nine o'clock and bolted out of the hotel, practically running to Parliament Hill. I didn’t see any cafes where I could get breakfast so I consoled myself with looking at the marvellous Fairmount Chateau Laurier hotel with the expensive cars pulling up. No Hollywood royalty seemed to be checking in. The 'walk' took about ten minutes and I was greeted by manicured lawns and the pristine parliament building. Pretty girls along the pavement were handing out flyers promoting special deals for canal excursions but I was immune to them. An older gent wasn't, much to the consternation of his wife and possibly his credit card.

    Helpful guides told me to get a ticket for a guided tour before the changing of the guard ceremony, which was scheduled to start at 9:45. At the white tent, I asked for a ticket, not really sure which tour to take. The guide gave a brief description and encouraged me to join the tour for the parliament building itself. I then settled down near the lawn, facing the East building. The crowds began to grow and after a brief introduction the ceremony began. The guards arrived accompanied with a band. After about twenty minutes of respectfully observing the marching, I began to hum along. I recognised the tune of 'Don't cry for me, Argentina", which made me laugh.

    After thirty minutes, the procession was led away and I went back to the white tent, to await the start of my tour. I was glad I'd taken the advice and claimed my ticket early since the queues were now really long. The leader of my group took us through airport-style security and gave a very detailed history of the building. We visited the House of Parliament and the House of Lords. I happily snapped pics in the former since photography is banned in the latter. The tour concluded at the Library, which was beautiful. I really wanted to climb over (or even under!) the gate and peruse the bookshelves. Having earlier identified myself as a Brit, I was the subject of various jokes from my fellow Canadian tourists. It was all in good humour and the group thanked the leader before we made our way up to the Peace Tower. The views were marvellous and I got a peak at the Ottawa River, which separates it from the Gatineau.

    I'd heard about poutin (is this the right spelling?) many times and opted to have it for lunch. I went to the indoor shopping centre and found a food court selling it. I had a large serving of hot fries dripping with cheese curds and gravy. Sometimes, it’s the simplest food that tastes the best. Thus, refuelled, I headed back to Parliament Hill to take a self-guided tour around the grounds. The weather was glorious and the tour took about an hour. I even rubbed the shoe of a PM for luck.

    Next stop was the Supreme Court, which I accessed by walking over a large grassy area. A young law student gave my small group a ten minute talk and tour of the chambers; he appeared to not really have his heart in it and seemed to patronise us with legalese. I was not impressed.

    A wander along Sparks Street Mall led to me having dinner at 37 North. I dined alfresco on a big, fat burger with fries and indulged in more people-watching. I used to be nervous dining alone but a friend explained it to me: no one gives you a second look because they are often too immersed in themselves. It sounds terribly shallow! A nearby couple were enjoying a hooka pipe but no one was stoned.

    It was then back to Parliament Hill again. I arrived early with my book and hoodie and took my place on the bleachers. At about half past nine the light and sound show began; images are projected onto the building itself with music and dialogue accompaniments. At the end, the crowd stood and sang the anthem. Walking back to the hotel, I felt as though a sort of 'party atmosphere' as the crowds dispersed. I would recommend this event to anyone interested in Canadian history.

    Day nine
    I had a lazy start to the day, buying breakfast in the hotel lobby and then setting out for a walk to the Canadian Museum of Civilisation, crossing the Alexandra bridge. The main reason I wanted to visit Ottawa was for its world-class museums and I was not disappointed. The IMAX film on sea monsters was fantastic, though the teacher in me wanted to tell the rowdy, enthusiastic kids behind to pipe down. Well, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em and I was soon screaming in mock terror at the crazy 3D creatures in front of me. I left the museum after about three hours; the exhibition on Canada through the ages was very interesting but again my mental compass had let me down. I had walked through the exit to the displays and come out at the entrance! I had gone back in time. Oops.

    I spent the afternoon scouring the Byward shopping centre for a bargain and finished by eating a beavertail pastry near the outdoor market. It was gorgeously unhealthy and I had to fight the urge not to have another. Dinner was at the Richtree Market; I'd never been to a restaurant where the customer is given a card, onto which food and beverages are charged. At the end, the card is handed over at the till and the account settled. There was a good selection of hot food but the portions were a bit on the small side. I took a dessert back to the hotel and watched Seinfeld in my pyjamas. Bliss!

    Day ten
    Breakfast was at Tim Hortons and then a stroll to the Canadian Museum of Nature. Unfortunately, part of the building was undergoing renovation so only a fraction was open to visitors. I spent time looking at all exhibits, enjoying the birds section, where I finally got to see a loon bird. The various interactive areas were occupied by young children, who were fascinated by all the creatues. The dinosaurs were impressive until a presentation told me that many of the specimens were plaster-casts of real bones. I enjoyed the special Darwin exhibit; it chronicled his life and my favourite piece was a list setting out the pros and cons of marriage. Thankfully, the pros won.

    After a rest back at the hotel I made my way to the Royal Mint. I'm wasn't sure of what to expect – would I be charged an entrance fee to look at money?! I gave a cursory glance at the coin displays, but spent much time staring at the million dollars worth of gold. The interactive areas included a bathroom scale that converted your weight into the value of gold. Let's just say I'm a rather wealthy girl! A couple of security guards were sat in a corner, guarding a gold bar. I was invited to lift it and the weight of it came as a surprise. Afterall, in the movies the bad guys can fill huge bags with gold bars and casually sling it over their shoulders. I thought about distracting the guards as I hid it under my thin T-shirt, but then thought better of it. Maybe I should come back with a large bag.

    That put me in the mood to go shopping so I ventured back to the outdoor market, filling up on maple syrup, cookies and knick-knacks for family and friends. I have to applaud the stallholders who take so much time and care to artfully arrange their wares and will happily engage with shoppers. I attempted a little French and took a couple of snaps before having dinner at a non descript café.

    Day eleven
    I packed my belongings and then headed to the Mackenzie King bridge to catch my bus to the train station. I was not going to shell out for another taxi ride! A helpful young lady signalled when to alight and wished me luck with the next part of my journey.

    There was a sizeable queue and I stood in line until a man told me to leave my suitcase in the queue and take a seat. Pretty soon everyone had done the same. We exchanged travel stories and the time flew by. There was no checked baggage for the journey to Toronto so I stowed my well-travelled case in the appropriate area and settled back into my single seat. The journey was longer and again I got to reflect on my time in the capital.

    As I mentioned earlier, the museums are excellent and the people are welcoming, giving helpful advice on what to see and do. The restaurants were geared to serving tourists, but perhaps I should have ventured out across the Gatineau to find a little family run gem. I wasn't able to find any Canadian wine, but on the plus side, I loved the beavertail and poutin. The city felt small, but again that's because I mainly visited nearby areas. Looking at the tourist information, I think that perhaps I should come by again but in winter time, when snow makes everything look magical. The city is proud of its heritage and keen to share it with all visitors.

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    Sorry for the delay in getting this report completed! Everytime I try, I end up looking at my photographs and get distracted!

    I arrived at Toronto's Union station late in the afternoon; the noise and bustle was a bit of shock after my peaceful and relaxing train ride. Clutching my guide book I found my hotel, the downtown Novotel, with relative ease. By now, I'm sure you'll expect me to say I had requested a room in a quiet area, and you'd be right! It was a king size room, overlooking a car park. It was spacious, newly renovated with a massive bathroom. Needless to say, I took much pleasure in fawning in front of the gigantic mirror and rearranging the furniture.

    After a quick shower, I headed out to the nearby St Lawrence market and then wandered up Yonge Street. I noticed a branch of Eggspectation and decided to return to it later in the evening. I checked out the bus station as I had already booked a ticket to Niagara Falls with CoachCanada and made sure I had the necessary paperwork for my journey. It was a bit grubby and reminded me of the old coach station in Birmingham, UK. I stumbled across a large tourist office on Dundas Street W and investigated the metro. I decided against buying a card since I felt I would see more of the city on foot.

    I wandered back along the Dundas/Yonge intersection and watched the locals ready themselves for a Friday night. The giant electronic billboards and endless traffic queues reminded me of London's Piccadilly Circus. There was a frenetic energy about the place that I'd missed in Montreal and Ottawa and I soaked it in. Dinner at Eggspectation was superb. The food was tasty and the service impeccable. I put my Montreal experience down to bad luck and decided that I would recommend this place to everyone. Get your egg fix here, Fodorites!

    Day Twelve
    What’s the one thing I had to do whilst in Toronto? Check out the CN tower! I always like to treat myself whilst on holiday and had booked a dinner reservation. The skywalk from Union station was convenient to use and I marvelled at the hordes of people queuing to ride the elevator up the tower. After a quick chat at the information desk, I was told to arrive about ten minutes before my reservation and I would be whisked up the 360 restaurant, thereby avoiding any queues. The Brit in me sighed.

    The rest of the day was spent looking at the financial district, getting my fix of skyscrapers. The old city hall sharply contrasted with the newer one; the latter I thought was rather ugly and the area seemed to devoid of any feeling. I'm sure it is better in the winter when ice-skating takes place, but in the summer heat it was just concrete.

    I returned to the hotel to get glammed up for dinner. I have unruly hair and I battled with the hairdryer in the bathroom. After a hard fought fight, I emerged ready to face the public. My reservation was for half past six and I naively thought that I'd be the only one eating at such an early time. The elevator ride was exciting and when I stepped into the restaurant I was warmly greeted and led to my table. I knew the restaurant revolved, but it still came as a bit of a surprise to experience it! I was led around the dining area, fearing that I had been relegated to a dark, tiny table reserved for lone diners. Thankfully, my table was next to the window and I enjoyed the view of the city basking in early evening sunshine.

    I had a flute of pink champagne, a Caesar salad, tortellini main course and a panna cotta style dessert. The whole thing set me back about CD$100 but it was worth it. The service was faultless and the waiting staff were happy to take photographs and engage in discussion about the city. I spent about two and half hours enjoying the view as the sun set. I was able to identify some of the buildings and surrounding areas. If you aim to visit the restaurant, look out for the fish in the window.
    The hostess told me to use a 'special' set of stairs to access the observation deck below as it would avoid the crowds. I set about at a brisk pace, ready to begin working off my meal. The observation deck was crowded with people so I aimed for the glass floor. Many people were standing at the edge, fearful to tread on it. I stood in the centre, looked below and took a photograph. The novelty had worn off after about half a minute so I knew it was time to retire for the night.

    Day thirteen
    I awoke, starving! A small shop next to the hotel sold toasted bagels and tea so I stocked up there and used the metro to reach the Royal Ontario Museum. It was a slow walk in the hot sunshine. It was still quite early and the crowds had not yet arrived. I enjoyed the various displays, including the dinosaur gallery and the ancient Egyptian mummies. After about three hours I left, noticing how busy it had become. Another slow walk led me to Chinatown. I aimed to get lunch here but was distracted by a march, calling for the end of communism in China. A fellow tourist told me that the Harbourfront was hosting some special events so I took a streetcar along Spadina Avenue. A Caribbean festival was taking place at Queens Quay and I enjoyed the sights and sounds. The food was tasty and I spent the afternoon sitting by the water watching the world go by.

    Dinner was at the Golden Griddle, near the St Lawrence Market. It was billed as a family restaurant with good, ol' fashioned home cooking. When I arrived it was empty but I didn't care. By this point, I just wanted to sit down. The food was amazingly awful! There was nothing authentic about this place – the mashed potato had obviously been reheated in a microwave and the chicken was as tough as boots. On top of that, the waitress had spilled half my meal on the table as she was serving it. She was mortified and ran away! Eventually she returned, apologising profusely. I could feel her embarrassment but I have to admit my tip was mediocre. I spent the rest of the evening sipping drinks at a Starbucks.

    Day fourteen

    I was up early, ready for a good walk to the Distillery District at Parliament Street and Mill Street. I passed very few people and was fearful that I had mis-timed my visit. Thankfully, the Gooderham and Worts Distillery area was open and I spent about an hour wandering around the art galleries. I can't say that I understand modern art and some of the exhibitions made no impression on me. Give me a good painting or sculpture any day! I would suggest to readers that they visit the district on a Friday or Saturday night for a meal and a few drinks. In the cold light of day, it seemed a bit barren.

    I trudged back towards the city centre and it was getting rather hot. I spent a good few hours in the cool Eaton Centre, being nosey and entering every shop. I bought some more knick-knacks but the fashions seemed to be geared towards teenage girls. I didn't think I could get away with strappy lycra tops and figure hugging skirts so I passed on that. I was chased around the Hello Kitty shop by an over-eager sales assistant until I surrendered and bought a pencil case. The kids at my school love it and keep asking where I got it from. On a bizarre note, I kept smelling cinnamon in every shopping centre I visited. Nowadays, when I smell it, I am reminded of Canada and can't say no to a cinnamon swirl!

    The evening's activity was to visit the Rogers Centre and watch the Toronto Blue Jays kick butt. I'd never watched a baseball match and didn't know any rules. My only thought was that it would be similar to the British school game called rounders. Heading through Union station and the skywalk, I felt the excitement grow. I'd booked a ticket from their website prior to my journey and was able to pass through the turnstiles quickly. I had bought a ticket for Level 5 in the family area and had no real appreciation of what the seat would be like. I gorged myself on popcorn and spent most of the game chatting with a group of men who gave me the low-down on the sport. They were very patient with my questions and were happy to share stories with me. The Blue Jays beat Oakland Athletic (hurrah!) and I found myself cheering along and getting carried away as the crowd shouted out "Pizza! Pizza!" in reference to a local pizza chain who give away free slices when the home team dispatch a certain number of their opponents. The view from the seat was excellent and I had a wonderful time.

    Back at the hotel I packed a rucksack for my trip to Niagara Falls and had a good night's rest.

    Day Fifteen

    Waking up at half five in the morning I quickly showered and power walked to the Bus station, where I would take the first CoachCanada bus to Niagara Falls. I was able to buy breakfast pastries at the station and queued for about half an hour before the coach arrived. There were only a handful of travellers on my coach and the driver was cheery. I was glad to have set off early as it meant we were able to miss the heavy traffic on QEW. There were a few stops and we were soon at our destination. The driver gave information about how to reach NF and gave us all a cheery goodbye.

    NF town is so small and peaceful, it was hard to imagine that this was a tourist hotspot! I bought a ticket for the Falls Shuttle Bus for $6 and was directed to stand outside the coach terminal. Within twenty minutes the bus came and by ten o'clock we were careering along to Clifton Hills, where the bus stopped. The buses carry route maps that link NF with the bus station. Each line has a different colour so it is relatively easy to travel around. I transferred onto another bus and was deposited at the information centre at Table Rock.

    During the bus journeys I had made a point of not looking out of the window – I wanted my first view of the falls to hit me big time! At Table Rock I wandered over to the railings and was met by my first sight of the water. The mist was thick and the sight of gushing water fantastic! I was excited and so happy to have finally arrived. I spent about ten minutes clicking on my camera before heading into the tourist centre to validate my Great Gorge Adventure pass, which I had purchased on the internet.

    The queues were small as it was still relatively early and I was able to purchase a ticket to Niagara's Fury for about $6 since I had already booked my Adventure pass. Others were offered the ticket for $10 as a one-day special offer. I had not initially planned on visiting Niagara's Fury but thought it would be fun. The entrance to it is upstairs in the gift shop. I was surrounded by cuddly toys, which were characters from show, but they were meaningless to me.

    We were first led into a dark circular room, which has a giant screen. A ten minute cartoon gave us the history of how NF was created by geological processes. It felt a bit like a school lesson and I wondered if my students would enjoy it. The science behind NF was rushed through and most of the time was spent watching cute, cuddly creatures frolic and travel through time. At last, the toys in the gift shop made sense.

    At the end of the film another set of doors opened and an usher beckoned us to enter the next dark chamber. The floor was made of metal grills, with water splashing beneath us, and a giant circular screen surrounded us. There was water dripping from the walls. We took our time positioning ourselves so as not to get wet and then the fun started. A booming voice led us through the history of NF and we experienced torrential downpours (water cascading down the walls), snowy vistas (snow falling on us as we all sang 'oooh!' and 'ahh!'), howling winds (gusts blowing at us) and storms (thunder claps and lightning strikes). It wasn't a very long presentation, but it was certainly worth sitting through the cartoon. We stumbled out through another set of doors back into the gift shop with predictable results. The kids wanted the cuddly toys and the parents obliged. I had to leave quickly since I had a timed ticket to the Journey Behind the Falls.

    The area was getting busier and it took 45 minutes of queuing to reach the lift for the JBtF. The basement area was packed and stiflingly hot. A couple of desk fans pushed the hot air around as the air conditioning system was broken. We were given yellow plastic ponchos and an unexpected chance to buy tourist memorabilia in the form of tacky digital photos. The unsuspecting tourist stands in front of a green screen and through electronic magic a photo appears, showing him/her standing on the Rainbow Bridge with the Horseshoe Falls behind him. The photos area available when you exit JBtF. Needless to say, when I saw mine I laughed really hard. Then I bought the two pictures for $10. They still make me laugh when I look at them because they are so cheesy!

    The lift was cramped and we were thankful to spill out into the tunnel. It was cold and obviously damp with a distant rumbling sound. As I walked along the tunnel the sound became louder and eventually I was standing behind the Falls, watching the water come crashing down. It was at this point that I truly felt the power of NF and the small child in me got seriously excited about the boat ride.

    Having purchased my tacky photos and deposited my poncho I caught the People Mover to the Maid of the Mist entrance. I was told that I did not have to queue through the turnstiles since I had already purchased my ticket so I directly joined the people queuing for the boat. This time I got to wear the blue poncho and had no intention of sorting out the mess that my hair had become! The queue was very long, but within 10 minutes I was on the top deck of the boat gripping my camera and bumping into others, including a Japanese couple on honeymoon.

    The ride was the highlight of NF; we chugged our way to the American Falls, waving to our US cousins. We spent a good deal of time at the Horseshoe Falls. I was amazed at how close we got to them and how intensely excited everyone around me was. I eventually had to put my camera away since we were getting sopping wet; my trainers were soaked through and the bottom of my trousers were dripping. I didn't care because I was too busy looking at the breathtaking scene in front of me. I really enjoyed screaming with others as we got wet blasts from the falls. In fact, the background on my computer screen is a view from the boat and I spend far too much time staring at it and reminiscing about what a wonderful time I had in NF and Canada.

    After the ride I needed food so I went to the nearest fast food restaurant. It was busy but I found a table to sit at and I sunbathed, letting my feet and trousers dry out. I had taken a pair of flip flops with me and changed into these and carried my wet trainers for the rest of the trip.

    I bypassed Clifton Hills because I decided I wanted to concentrate on the natural scenery around me rather than visit a casino. Next stop was Rainbow Bridge. I eventually found the entrance to the bridge and was astounded to learn that I had to pay 50 cents to use it! I joked with a couple that it was cheaper to use a public toilet in the UK. After scrambling around for change, I went through the turnstile and walked along the bridge. It was a bright, sunny day with glorious views of the falls so I stopped to take some pictures, including the international boundary. The traffic was building up and I was glad to be able to stroll along and admire the views.

    Arriving at the US side, I went through border control, paying US$6 for a tourist visa. I was thankful that I had thought about bringing US currency and my passport. Thus, I entered New York State and decided to send a couple of postcards to my long suffering family and friends. At the tourist centre I was directed to a shop along Main Street where I could purchase cards and stamps. Along the way I stumbled across an ice-cream parlour, where I could not get a milkshake because they had no milk. I laughed so hard and ended up eating a tub of ice-cream as I wandered around. I did not have time to see the falls from the US side and besides, I had to get back to the bus station to catch my coach home.

    My leisurely stroll along the bridge ended with a quick passage through the Canadian border control. Satisfied with the extra stamps in my passport, I made my way back to Clifton Hills to catch the Falls Shuttle Bus. Within a couple of hours I disembarked the CoachCanada bus near the Royal York hotel. It was raining heavily and NF suddenly seemed a world away.

    After a warm shower I headed out for dinner, eating at a Thai restaurant near the St Lawrence Market. During my visit to Canada I had often seen signs for bubble tea. I didn't know what it was so on my final night I decided to investigate. It was a real treat and I wished I'd tried it sooner. The milk tea had tapioca balls at the bottom and the whole concoction was drunk using a wide straw. It was sweet and delicious!

    Returning to my hotel, I reluctantly began packing my suitcase one final time.

    Day sixteen
    I awoke late and had a filling brunch at the St Lawrence Market. I shopped a little and then returned to my hotel to check out. I felt a mixture of sadness that I was actually leaving, but also happiness because I had had such a fantastic time in all three cities.

    I caught the Airport Express bus from Front Street and within thirty minutes was at the airport. Check-in was quick and soon I was on my plane, heading home.

    My views of Toronto is that it feels more like a capital city than Ottawa. The people were more like Londoners, and whenever I asked for help, people were much more generous with their time. The frenetic pace contrasted sharply with both Ottawa and Montreal and it felt more international. As a result, no-one commented on my accent in Toronto but it was a source of some fascination in Quebec. There was so much to see and do that I was unable to do it all. This doesn't matter as it gives me another excuse to visit!

    Overall, I was extremely happy with my trip; everyone I chatted to was friendly and approachable. Summing up I would say that Toronto is a big, brash city with so many events I can understand why tourist flock to visit. Ottawa is more the more gentle and refined cousin whereas Montreal has a rich history and the best looking men.

    I will not hesitate to book another visit to this wonderful country and would like to investigate further afield.

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    Thank you for reading it! I'm glad you enjoyed it and I hope that prospective travellers to Canada will gain some useful knowledge about the cities I've visited.

    Can't wait to go back.

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    Thanks Sandy

    I enjoyed reading your perspectives on Toronto, Ottawa and Niagara Falls; I've enjoyed a few trips to these three also. And indeed there are a lot of gorgeous men in Montreal, makes the populace a bit pickier though about who they date LOL. I'm glad you enjoyed; do come back to Canada some time... and add to more Central Canada city experiences visits to the Maritimes, West Coast, Quebec City, etc... It's a huge country... truly a lifetime of terrific things to see, even those of us living in Canada can't see it all.

    Best wishes,

    Daniel

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    Sandy,
    Thank you for the great TR. I find it fascinating to hear what travelers think of my home town. I was with you all the way...and especially when you made the mistake of going to the Golden Griddle. Trust me, there was a time (about 35 years ago) when it was a fun place to go for brunch. But it is now dreadful and I don't know how they stay open. But it sounds as if you managed to have a good time regardless!

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