A few days in Toronto

After beginning to plan a 2-week summer trip to the USA, we discovered our favourite pop group, the Backstreet Boys were touring North America during our trip. Unable to make any of the US dates work with our plans, we decided to add on a few extra days to our vacation to visit Canada and made plans to attend the concerts in Toronto and Montreal.

View of Nathan Phillips Square from our Sheraton Centre hotel room

Flying into Toronto late evening from New York, we took a taxi from the airport to our hotel, the Sheraton Centre. We’d won the 4* hotel for a heavily discounted nightly rate on the Priceline website’s Name You Own Price feature and were immediately impressed by the large room and extremely comfortable beds.

The next morning, after a pancake breakfast at one of the hotel restaurants, we went to find out about buying tickets for a hop on/off tour. We had hoped to find some leaflets at the hotel about the tours on offer but unable to find the information we needed, we decided to ask the hotel’s concierge. Before we knew what had happened, reservations had been made for us and we were handing over our money but upon heading outside to wait for the bus, we saw the City Sightseeing bus we had hoped to get pull up across the road at a different bus stop.

Moments later, our tour bus pulled up – a small fully enclosed minibus rather than the open-topped bus we had hoped to ride. Unable to change our tickets, we jumped on board and tried to make the most of it but although the commentary from our driver was informative, it wasn’t the best way to see the city, especially through the scratched-up windows.

Visiting the CN Tower Observation Deck

The minibuses were less regular than the City Sightseeing buses would have been meaning we had to plan our stops carefully so we wouldn’t be hanging around too much waiting for the next bus. We decided to hop off at the Royal Ontario Museum, an art and natural history museum. A spending an hour or so looking around, we wasted a bit more time in the museum gift store until it was time for the minibus to come around again.

View from the CN Tower, and below, Yonge-Dundas Square and shopping along Yonge Street

With the bus schedule not really being conducive to repeatedly hopping on and off, we decided it would be best to just stay on board for the rest of the loop and return to anything of interest later. So once back at the hotel, we walked down to the CN Tower and bought tickets to go up to its observation deck. It was a pretty clear day and the views from the top were amazing!

From the CN Tower we walked to Yonge-Dundas Square, a public square in the city similar to Times Square in New York or Piccadilly in London with its huge billboard screens flashing up their adverts. Then we went shopping at the Eaton Centre, a huge city mall.

Arriving at the concert venue

That evening, we attended the concert at the Molston Amphitheatre before returning to our hotel for an early night.

We’d be up early the next day for a full day tour we’d booked to Niagara Falls.

After being picked up by the tour company, we boarded our minibus for the day and after a few stops to pick up other passengers, we began our journey around Lake Ontario to the falls.

Viewpoint of the US-Canadian border

Along the way we made a few stops, the first at a Lake Ontario viewpoint then another at a winery for a quick tour and spot of wine-tasting. We then passed the smallest chapel in the World at Niagara-on-the-Lake (where we were due to stop to take photos but were running late so didn’t), pulled over at a viewpoint of the Canada-USA border and made one final stop at Niagara’s famous Floral Clock before finally arriving at Niagara Falls!

It was worth the wait, our first view of the falls was breath-taking.

Passing the American side of the Falls

We were assured we’d have plenty of opportunity over the day to stand and stare but first of all, we had tickets included in our tour to ride the Maid of the Mists boats. As we boarded, we were handed huge blue ponchos and it didn’t take long for us to realise why. The boats sailed as close to the falls as they could get, the spray from the waterfall drenching us all as we stood out on the boat’s deck. It was great fun and an amazing experience to get that close!

The Candian Falls

After our boat trip, the rest of the day was at our leisure and we were just given a time to be back at the minibus for in order to return to Toronto. We headed across from the falls to the nearby Sheraton Hotel and its Hard Rock Cafe for lunch from which we could see a view of the falls while we dined.

We then spent way too much time stood at a viewpoint taking photos and just staring at the waterfalls before taking a stroll along Clifton Hill in the entertainment district.

Clifton Hill, Niagara’s entertainment district

We were surprised at the contrast of the complete tackiness of Clifton Hill with its numerous tourist attractions including a wax museum, arcades and minigolfs. We took a ride on the large Ferris Wheel to get more spectacular views of the waterfall then it was time to walk back to the viewpoint for our last glance before we met our minibus to head back to Toronto.

View of the Falls from the Sky Wheel

Back in Toronto early evening, we went for dinner at one of the hotel restaurants before taking a walk down to the waterfront.

The next morning, we checked out of our hotel and took a taxi to Union Station from where we’d be catching a train to our next destination, Montreal. It had been a whistle stop visit to Toronto and it hadn’t been nearly enough time there but one day I hope to return!

Northern BLT Day 1-2: New York State

Finger Lakes, Niagara Falls and Buffalo

After spending the last few days getting to know each other in New York, we were all up early on the day of departure for our tour to meet the last 2 members of the group who hadn’t managed to make it into the city to meet up and our tour guide.

Our Trek van awaits

Our guide seemed bemused when he started a ‘get to know each other’ game only to find out that despite us being 11 solo travellers from all over the UK (plus one American!), we already knew each other pretty well! After the usual form-filling and trip rules talk, we loaded our luggage into the trailer and jumped into our home for the next 3 weeks – our Trek America van!

Passing through Pennsylvania state

Advertised in the itinerary as ‘The Finger Lakes’, today was a bit of a low key day to start the tour on but the lack of exciting attractions at least gave the group time to bond further as we journeyed through New York State.

Taughannock Falls

That’s not to say there weren’t any scheduled stops today. As well as the usual fuel and snack gas station stops (which are always great fun, it’s amazing what you can find to buy at these places!!), we made prolonged stops at both a winery and a waterfall!

Arriving at Taughannock State Park, on the west shore of Cayuga Lake, we took a short hike out to Taughannock Falls. The miserable weather only added to making the waterfall look and sound more dramatic and we took our first group photo of the trip in front of the cascading water.

Next up was the Crystal Lake Cafe at the Americana Vineyards. Not being a wine drinker, the highlight of the winery for me was the adorable dog enjoying all the fuss he was obviously used to receiving in the gift shop!!

We made one more stop to take photos of one of the Finger Lakes before continuing to our overnight stop at a Super 8 in Auburn, New York State where we ate dinner at a local bar.

At the Finger Lakes

The next morning, those of us up early enough walked to a local diner for a delicious pancake dinner before we departed for Buffalo.

A bit wet after a boat trip to the falls

Today, we’d be visiting the American side of Niagara Falls. After a Walmart stop to get food for a picnic, we arrived at the Falls in time for lunch. Picnic over, we took a trip of Maid of the Mist, a boat that takes you up close to the falls. This was an included extra on our trip meaning we didn’t have to pay any extra. The boat trip was amazing and we were all glad for the fetching blue ponchos that’s had been handed out as we boarded as we’d have got soaked by the spray from the falls without them!

Views of the falls

How we spent the rest of our time at the falls was up to us with some members of the group walking to nearby viewing points to take photos and one even opting to walk across the bridge to Canada just to say he’d been! A few of us decided to visit the Caves of the Wind attraction where, after getting appropriately dressed in yet another provided poncho (bright yellow this time!) and provided water sandals, both of which we got to keep after, we followed a path which lead us alongside the falls, once again soaking us in the spray! This was great fun and well worth the extra cost!!

From Niagara Falls, we continued to the city of Buffalo where we checked into our hostel for the night then it was off out to a local bar for dinner. This bar wasn’t just any bar but the Anchor Bar where Buffalo Wings were supposedly invented in the 1960s! A couple of the group opted to take on the wings challenge ordering a plate of 50 wings between them and attempting (but failing!) to eat them all!

We stayed at the bar til late before taking the short walk back to the hostel and trying to get some sleep in our sweltering room. It had been a great start to the trip and we couldn’t wait to continue our adventure!

Watch my Trek America adventures in New York state here: