Sunday 17 January 2010

Snowboarding Time!

While visiting Canada, I knew I would have to try snowboarding! Thus, after borrowing copious amounts of winter wear from my lovely hosts, we headed off to Blue Mountain, the largest ski resort in Ontario.

Unfortunately for Sheena Archie and me, the bunny slopes were not that bunny, but rather a bit steep for novices to learn how to snowboard. Sheena and I had opposite problems - she could control, but couldn't balance; I had great balance, but couldn't stop! By the afternoon, we simply decided to fly down the mountain and enjoy ourselves. Since I couldn't stop, I would just fall down to slow myself down. Numerous people told me that I would fall tremendously my first time, but does it count if you do it on purpose? Still fun nonetheless!

Snowboarding (or at least attempting to!) at Blue Mountain

Saturday 16 January 2010

Castles, Hot Chocolate, and Casinos!

As we slept in and Victoria was able to grab snowboarding equipment for me from a friend, we had a later start today. Thus, we raced to the Castle Casa Loma to get inside before closing time. Upon arrival, all we could see were hundreds of kids!

At the parking lot, the attendant stated that though the castle was open for at least another half hour, they stopped selling tickets about five minutes ago. Wanting to make it inside, we parked the car and tried our luck.
Interestingly enough, perhaps because of the literally hundreds of young children, there was chaos and no ticket taker at the door, to explore the castle we went!

Finished in 1914, the castle was constructed with a Gothic Revival-style and originally served as the home for Sir Henry Mill Pellatt, a Canadian soldier and financer who brought hydro-electricity to Toronto.  The castle was simple with basic rooms any castle (or even house) would have. We discovered the hundreds of children were apart of the Girl Guides of Canada (equivalent to the Girl Scouts of America). It was adorable as each Girl Guide wanted to tell each of us how many patches they had and what they were awarded - too cute!
Mary's Sitting Room at the Castle Loma

We drove down to the Distillery District, a great date spot, and had hot chocolate at Soma. Their Mayan Hot Chocolate mixed Venezuelan chocolate, cinnamon, Australian ginger, orange peels, Madagascan Vanilla, and Soma's secret blend of spices - delicious!

The Distillery District

On a last-minute whim, we decided to drive the hour-and-a-half down to Niagara Falls! A fan of waterfalls, I could only describe it as an enormous, gorgeous hold-in-the ground waterfall (in the best possible way)! Being that it was cold and we only wanted a few quick pics, we parked the car, ran out to snap some photos, and jumped back in after seeing the most powerful waterfall in North America. The sight was one to see with the lights reflecting in the water; the air was one to smell with the cool, fresh scent!

Niagara Falls - gorgeous!

The rest of the night was spent in the casino with about three full hours spent playing Casino War. No one walked away with any major winnings, but it was good stuff nonetheless!

Friday 15 January 2010

All Around This Town!

We headed off to the city of Markham for what Victoria and Amy To call "mainland" dim sum at Ding Tai Fung. Unlike Cantonese-type dim sum with its push-carts and point-at-what-you-want-style, Shanghai-type dim sum is ordered straight from a menu. Additionally, dim sum pieces can also have soup inside of its pieces.

Shanghai-style dim sum at Ding Tai Fung

The girls and then I headed off to Honest Ed's Discount Store, a discount treasure at the corner of Bloor and Bathurst. Since 1948, the showy store serves as a landmark in Toronto with over 23,000 lights for its store front and dozens of witty signs hung inside. Thick winter coats? $3! Leather boots? $20! Good stuff!

Honest Ed's! More than a discount store - it's a landmark!

We then headed off to the famous The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), one of the "world’s leading museums of natural history and of world cultures." In this traveler's opinion, the museum impressively lived up to its expectations! The architecture of the building was creatively planned with multiple expansions while the inside exhibits features over six million pieces in over forty galleries.

Royal Ontario Museum. Creative architecture, no?

The Gemstone Collection had to be the girls' favorite with the Children's Playzone winning the runner-up position. What can I say? You're never too old for interactive museum exhibits involving dinosaurs and dress-up!

Later that night, we went to Smoke's Poutinerie for a poutine dinner. With the girls ridiculously shocked that I had never eaten poutine in my life, I tried the gravy-covered French fries and cheese curd with some chili! Delicious, but definitely not for one on a diet!

Chili poutine...mmm!

The relaxing night ended with live jazz at Rex Jazz & Blues Bar. The band consisted of four fifty-year-olds that could play and rock like they were in their twenties. Good stuff!

Thursday 14 January 2010

Touring Toronto

As I was traveling by bus from Buffalo to Toronto, there was unfortunately no stamp to be had on my passport, but the double-decker Megabus proved an efficient journey! I made my way to Toronto's bus terminal to meet up with my lovely hosts, Victoria Nguyen and Rachel Taguicana. Through CouchSurfing, they were originally my guests in Los Angeles.

Tip: When traveling from the U.S. to Canada (or vice-versa), it is much cheaper to fly domestically to say, Buffalo Airport, and take a bus over the border than to fly internationally.

One of Greater Vancouver's signature restaurants

Right away, we dropped my backpack in the trunk and headed out to explore downtown. We had a savory Italian dinner at Milestones which overlooked Dundas Square, a mini-version of New York's Times Square. After catching up, the girls were nice enough to give me a quick walking tour of Downtown.

Toronto's Old City Hall - nice shot, Victoria!

We found ourselves in front of Wanda's to taste some of Toronto's finest Belgian waffles. The "hole-in-the-wall" shop provided a delicious mix of caramel, ice cream, whipped cream and powdered sugar all on top of the waffle. A must stop for any local or tourist!

Classic Belgian Waffles with whipped cream? Don't mind if I do!

To my surprise, we stayed at Rachel's parent's house since that was closer to Toronto than their university. What a nice surprise! We spent a good half an hour catching up with them before bed and told them of the sites we had planned to see the next day, including the Casa Loma castle.

"Oh, I used to live in the Castle Loma," Rachel's dad commented. "But then I moved out because the government taxes were too high!"