Toronto & Niagara Trip Report

Oct 27th, 2019, 04:37 PM
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Toronto & Niagara Trip Report

DH and I had a wonderful trip to Toronto the first week of October. We were blessed with fantastic weather—sunny and in the 60s the whole week except for the last day. We saw historical sites, art, museums, and ate great food. We also added on 2 days to the Niagara region which was beautiful. I am going to split up the report between this original post and then put more in the replies below.

We stayed in this VRBO: the time you are reading this, the city may have changed its rules on short term rentals. When we went, they were still in the gray zone of not being illegal. This place had a wonderful location—a 15 minute uber from downtown. The metro was a block and a half away, there were 2 coffee shops, a breakfast place, a drug store and a grocery store nearby. The kitchen is really amazing—we didn’t end up using it but it has everything you need. The laundry was no longer in the basement, but rather in the hall closet, which was great because it allowed us to pack light and wash clothes.

Food: Oh my, did we eat well. I was looking for Canadian or seafood restaurants.

Canoe: We saved this for our last night in Toronto and I am glad we did. Nothing else compared to the meal, the service, and the view. We had the tasting menu which was truly superb and really creative. What was really amazing was that there was a table of gentlemen from the Bordeaux Society who were having dinner near us. They brought wine from their collection to be served with the meal. We were sitting near the server station and got to talk to the sommelier as he opened their wines and we may have even been given a small sip of a very, very nice wine…

Josos: This place prides itself on simple fish dishes prepared really well. I liked it but it could have been more creative. And clearly somebody has a boob fetish—lots of pix of naked women. Lots of pix of all the celebrities who come there. Lots of odd seafaring oddities for decorations. It was a unique atmosphere.

The Chase Fish and Oyster: Very good seafood. Nice wine list.

We ate at one other place that was a last-minute substitution when I realized the place we made reservations at was actually in Texas-woops!!! And now I can’t remember the name of the restaurant…

We took the UP Express into Union station and then Ubered to our lodging. The train was easy and very pleasant and certainly beat having to deal with rush hour traffic. We walked and Ubered throughout Toronto. It wasn’t that much more expensive than the Metro and got us places in less than half the time. We took the UPE back to the airport to rent a car there and then drive to Niagara. I didn’t want to have to deal with renting a car downtown and then driving out of the city.

Day One:
We started at Fort York. The museum at the Visitors Center is quite informative. The one great thing about travel is that we get to learn history they never taught us in school. E.g. It wasn’t England that started the War of 1812 and the US didn’t win it. Lots of complex issues at play and impacted various segments of Canada very differently. The Fort was interesting as well.

Then we walked over to the Music Garden on Queens Quay and walked through it while reading the signs. It is very pretty—probably even more so in the summer.

Next was the Hockey Hall of Fame. Neither of us really know anything about hockey, but when you are in a place where it is so important, you better go. We ate lunch at the Marche (sp?) food court that is across from the Roots store/hockey store. It was a great place for lunch. Had anything you wanted—very fresh food and healthy. The Hall of Fame is huge. We especially enjoyed the special exhibit on Wayne Gretzky and Gordie Howe (sp??). Unbeknownst to us, the St. Louis Blues had been in town the night before for a game against the Maple Leafs and they were at the Hall of Fame that morning to pick up their Stanley Cup rings in a small ceremony. One of the museum gentleman walked right past me with the Stanley cup—he was taking it to the ceremony-- and we were in a narrow passage way so he actually bumped into me with it. That’s not something that happens every day!!!

StantonHyde is offline  
Oct 27th, 2019, 04:38 PM
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Day Two:
We started at Casa Loma, which is fascinating and fun. We then ate lunch at Fet Zun which is near the DuPont Metro station. I have never eaten Middle Eastern food quite like it. It was delicious. That was the best lunch we had.

Next, we went to the MacKenzie house. We learned a great deal about MacKenzie, Toronto at that point in history, and printing. The tour was led by a knowledgeable docent.

We capped off the day at the Art Gallery of Ontario. We were especially interested in the 7 artists who founded a Canadian Landscape artist’s movement. The gift shop had some great, fun items.

Day Three:
We started at the St. Lawrence Market for breakfast. It was ok. The market is fun to see but I think it would have been better to eat elsewhere or least a place with better coffee.

Next, we walked over to the Cathedral Church of St. James, which was lovely to tour.

Then it was off to the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library. Let’s say this was a bit of a disappointment. You can only see a special exhibit on display. And the one we was on photography books vs. the old books they had there. I would skip it.

Our last stop was the Royal Ontario Museum. We had lunch at the Café, which was passable. There was a special exhibit on Classic Horror and Sci Fi Art—movie posters mainly. It was very interesting and fun! We spent the rest of our time in the Canada Collection Room and the 1stPeoples Room. The exhibits were incredibly well done.

Day Four:
We Ubered to Union Station, then took the UPE to the airport, where we rented a car and drove south/west.

We stopped at 3 wineries: Cave Spring Cellars is just a store in Jordan, which is a cute town, but that’s about it. Good wines.
We toured the Konzelmann Estate Winery—very interesting history and a beautiful place. The last place was the Chateau des Charmes winery where we tried their very own wine clone. It was quite good. We ate lunch at some totally unremarkable place.

Next, we took the Hornblower tour to the Falls. The town of Niagara Falls is a horrific cross between Vegas and the Jersey Shore. At least the part next the Falls is. Yeesh. The boat tour is cheesy but it was fun. We really liked the funicular railway. If you are on the Canada side, this is the tour to take. There were people at the hotel who had some travel agent book them all this stuff on the US side—and it was Columbus Day weekend/Canadian Thanksgiving so it was busy at the border. We drove the Niagara Falls Parkway up to Niagara on the Lake. What a lovely drive. If it had been warmer, it would have been great to rent bikes and go on the bike path.

We stayed that night at the Harbour House Hotel which is really, really nice—with a price tag to match. (it was hard to find anything for that weekend and prices were probably higher then too) We had dinner at Peller Estates which is gorgeous. We had the tasting menu. The food was good, the wine was much better. It was sort of like touring a 4th winery!

Day Five:
We weren’t hungry for breakfast after such a big dinner. The hotel did have a nice breakfast included in the room price. I just took coffee to go.
We started at the Laura Secord house. We knew nothing about her before this trip. The house tour was really good-great docent—and we learned a great deal about the War of 1812, the family, Canada at the time, etc. Very interesting.

Then we had a quick spin around Fort George. There was a musket firing demonstration that DH really liked.

At that point, we had to head to the airport to return our car and fly home.

We really had a great time and loved learning about all of the history. We keep working our way across Canada from East to West for our fall vacations. We will have to see what our next adventure brings as we tour our neighbors to the North!
StantonHyde is offline  
Oct 29th, 2019, 05:03 AM
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You body-checked the Stanley Cup? That alone qualifies you for honourary Canadian citizenship (and for spelling with extra "u's". Your enthusiastic exploration turned up stuff many locals have never noticed. Your description of Niagara Falls captures the honky-tonk tourism that filters the genuine wonder of the Falls themselves and the historical and vineyard resources away from the cataract. And yes indeed, the War of 1812-14 divides national opinions. One extra detail: the "landscape" artists at the AGO are known as the Group of Seven and were a defining movement in early 20th Century art. Congratulations, and come again.
Southam is offline  
Oct 29th, 2019, 07:54 AM
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Oh joy, we are headed to Toronto and Niagara Falls at the end of November, beginning of December.

We've been a few times to both (more to NF; it was supremely inexpensive before they built the casino) but chose this weekend for a ballet I've been wanting to see.

I appreciate your detailed report and the Hornblower thing is now on my list.

We don't drink so aren't looking for wines or wineries, but the special Middle Eastern food sounds great. I also was planning on breakfast at St James Market, but not if the coffee wasn't good. We may skip the market, or should we not? We can easily skip it for breakfast and still visit.

We are planning on the AGO. I have heard that there is a ceramics museum in Toronto, but asked my friend about it, and he, the international king of the ceramics industry, denied any knowledge of it. Anyone?

Thanks so much for the great report.
tuscanlifeedit is offline  
Oct 29th, 2019, 04:56 PM
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Southam--thank you, I will gladly accept that citizenship--we love Canada. Of course, the fact that I had no idea that the young men walking around the Hall of Fame in suits were hockey players would put me to shame. I expected hockey players to be built more like American football players. DH scoffed at this notion--"hockey players have to be fast and you saw how much padding was on those uniforms!" So perhaps he is more deserving.....

I knew the landscape painters were a "something" of Seven but I couldn't remember--the Group of Seven. Thank you. Yes, we found it very interesting how the concept of/need to shape a Canadian identity came up throughout our explorations of history, art, furniture, etc. I am chagrined to say that we didn't realize how "late" Canada was in gaining independence.

Next up is Nova Scotia or PEI. I remember visiting Halifax and the Bay of Fundy as a child. Bicycling on PEI is something we want to do. We have friends who have done great bike tours there.
StantonHyde is offline  
Oct 29th, 2019, 04:58 PM
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Tuscan--I would go to the market for a 15 minute walk through, but not to eat, unless you go on a weekend when the full market is happening. I didn't come across a ceramics museum but I wasn't looking for one either. The other museums had plenty of ceramics.
StantonHyde is offline  
Nov 1st, 2019, 11:29 AM
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Tuscan - there is a small gem of a ceramic museum in Toronto for’s called the Gardiner, and is right opposite the ROM on University Ave just south of Bloor St. By the time you come Eataly will have finally opened further along Bloor Street...I’m ok either way having an Eataly in town, but thankful the construction mess in front of the Manulife Centre will finally be completed. The AGO has a good early Rubens exhibit currently on.

Stanton - glad you had a great time in TO and Niagara. I prefer Q123 for lodging in NOTL but Harbour House is pretty nice...
kmowatt is offline  
Nov 3rd, 2019, 04:04 PM
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Thanks StantonHyde and kmowatt; helpful both.

I'm confused about where to eat. On the Saturday night, we are going to the ballet but would eat an early dinner, pre-theatre. On Friday and Sunday night we're OK for any time at all, but could stand a recommendation or three.

Also will be eating dinner in Niagara Falls on Monday night.

Thanks for any ideas you might have. In terms of food, we aren't the subtle types. We like big flavors, but don't like fried foods. Any ethnicity is OK and we don't really want fine dining. We like inventive but we pick delicious first.
tuscanlifeedit is offline  
Nov 3rd, 2019, 05:45 PM
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Well, "late" independence is a relative thing. Canada was federated earlier than both Germany and Italy. But those are technical terms. More significant, as latenight host Jon Stewart once said, is that we gained our nationhood by asking politely. And Queen Elizabeth is still our monarch, although we do not have to pay the costs of her expensive brood. Yes, we are a constitutional monarchy, pushing the squabbling politicians one step down.
I hope you enjoy, and report back, on your possible Maritimes exploration. If I may offer a polite tip: Talking about how nice a restaurant such as Canoe is will carry more weight if you specify the cost. There, a main course is around $50 Cdn (with Queen E2 on the bills.) And providing links will be more helpful and less boastful.
Southam is offline  
Nov 4th, 2019, 05:37 AM
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Tuscan... for dinner in Niagara on Monday... take the 15 minute ride to Niagara on the Lake... Treadwell for farm to table, Old World Winery for Italian, or Trius for Canadian overlooking the Vineyards.... all are great but are tourist priced. Better to spend your dinner money on high quality.
garyt22 is offline  
Nov 4th, 2019, 09:06 AM
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Southam: Do you mean a link to the restaurant's web site? I always like to know a person's experience at the restaurant. I get most of my restaurant ideas from the Fodors guidebooks--which indicates price ranges and people can see those on the main Fodors web page. I look up the restaurant on Trip Advisor and/or yelp to see what other's wrote about it. All of the places we ate dinner were expensive. We are foodies and the once a year we travel as a couple we eat very well. Any other trips we do are with kids and we eat at inexpensive, family restaurants. Toronto certainly has an amazing array of restaurant choices.
StantonHyde is offline  
Nov 4th, 2019, 03:06 PM
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Tuscan - agree with Gary to head to NOTL for eating and second Treadwell’s on Queen St - have had quite a few dinners there and never been disappointed. Also the restaurant at the Two Sisters Winery is very good as is the Garrison Pub. There is also a restaurant called Backhouse that is outstanding - tasting menus with superb service and sommelier.
I’ve only ever eaten at the restaurant inside the Sheraton in Niagara Falls - think it was called Windows. Food was good and the view of the falls is spectacular.

In Toronto I can highly recommend the restaurant inside the Ritz Carlton called Toka - it’s a great space and surprisingly informal for the Ritz. Great service and food.

Le Select Bistro on Wellington is also good - been around for years and years so you know it has to be good to stay around.

Canoe is amazing as Stanton has attested - incredible view!!

Alo is top rated but good luck getting a reservation.
kmowatt is offline  
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