“I’m sitting in a railway station, got a ticket for my destination…ohh ohhh”. Yep. Just cleared security at the Canadian border at Niagara Falls and what a funny experience that has been. The police man on the border who gave us clearance spent ages chatting to us about our trip and gave us some great tips and advice for our travels. What a pleasure it was to deal with such a nice man as we arrive across the border and into the USA. He’s a credit to his country and his profession for sure and we need more of him on border crossings. Having spent a glorious week in Canada we are now heading for New York City where we will spend a week taking in the sights there. We’re facing a thirteen hour train journey from Toronto through Niagara and down into the States. A perfect time for writing this blog 👌. It’s gonna be a long one, ya hear! 🤓
Now before arriving in Canada, I’m ashamed to say I knew very little about the country, its culture and heritage and its people. Having spent a week here I’m a small bit wiser and educated, and what I’ve experienced is definitely worth sharing with ye guys.
The first positive thing that struck me about this country on arriving on a flight to Toronto airport from Iceland (aside from all the snow piles again) was the politeness and friendliness of the people, and apparently that is one of the big things that Canadians are famous for (so it’s not just us Irish?) At the airport, an assistant called Delphine quickly spotted us looking for the way to the train and bus station with our haversacks and offered to take us to where we needed to go. She was such a breath of fresh air, chatting with us all the way through different elevators which took us through a maze of various levels of the airport to reach the train link. She travelled with us on the train link to the bus station to make sure that we took the right bus to Hamilton, almost an hour away from Toronto. Now that’s a welcome that I’ve never experienced yet at any airport. Although, maybe we looked a bit more disheveled than usual after the long flight and the freezing weather of Iceland. Sympathy might have been the instigator 😂. On the not-so-positive side, there are Canadians, (only a few mind) I kid you not, who hang rubber scrotums from the tow-bar on the back of their pick up trucks! I personally witnessed them on our return trip from Niagara Falls to Hamilton. True story! They are absolutely gross and a huge distraction when driving behind one! Swinging in the air, in different colours, black and skin coloured ones. Gross but hilarious!
We arrived at our accommodation quite late the first night, tired and cold and hungry. Our accommodation was a cozy quaint wooden cottage near the centre of the city of Hamilton, with a population of over 550,000, almost twice that of the whole island of Iceland – (Not in the cottage! In the City! 🤪) with patchwork quilts and everything you could wish for in an immaculately clean kitchen. And Netflix on a huge TV at the foot of our bed! We were in our element. I have to say, our experience with Airbnb accommodation so far has been top class.
It was only 9 p.m. Canadian time, (2 a.m. by our body clocks), but regardless we needed food and ventured out for Pizza. Safe to say we were shattered the next day and decided to take a much needed “John and Yoko” day off, which is a day that we have made a regular and compulsory event in our marriage, and I’d highly recommend. Lock the doors, get in the food and wine (which is a fraction of the price we were paying in Iceland), watch movies from under the duvet and whatever else tickles your fancy 😱 One of the loveliest parts of this trip is that at last I get to have breakfast every morning with Colm. Away from the roller-coaster of life where we were lucky to have one breakfast a week together, it is just exactly what we need. While we make sure that we each have time apart (cos we’d drive each other bats if we didn’t), it is nothing short of a godsend to get to spend some quality time with my husband at last. (After 20 years of marriage, my blog might not read like this 😜). One of the many things that’s impressed me most about Colm on this trip (stop it now! Lol) is that he has a gift of being able to look at a complex and detailed map and quickly figure out how to get to where we need to be..what trains and buses we need to take, and when. This is a must for a trip like ours, as it would be far too costly to travel on anything other than public transport. So, he is the Navigator basically for every place we want to visit. The accuracy at which he links buses to trains to planes without more than a ten minute wait for us is amazing and has to be seen to be believed! It also means we can visit places off the beaten track, cheaply and confidently knowing we’ll get there and back safely. Money couldn’t buy it!
Speaking of which! When I first held Canadian Dollars in my paws I had to do a double take when I saw the face of Queen Elizabeth II looking back at me! I never knew that she was the Head of State in Canada? And did you know that the Canadian Dollars when you get them from the ATM machines smell like Maple Syrup! Yep…now there’s something I found fascinating! Although walking around with two ten dollar notes stuck up my nose wasn’t such a good idea 😂 (I’m kidding of course…they were fifty dollars ha ha)
So, after a much needed day of rest, we took a leisurely stroll around Hamilton itself to familiarize ourselves with our surroundings. Hamilton is a huge industrialized city, with steelwork factories scattered everywhere. It’s a hive of industry and these factories have been the main employers in the area for decades. There is also a military history to the city, with fabulous statues erected in the centre of Hamilton in memory of those who lost their lives during the World Wars and more recently in Afghanistan. The historical influence of the British occupancy of this city, and in Canada generally, is clearly evident as you stroll around. Hamilton itself is called after George Hamilton (not our guy!) a Canadian politician with Scottish family connections. Streets and roads are called after the British Monarchy, King and Queen Streets and the main motorway being the QEW (Queen Elizabeth Way). Houses and buildings generally in Hamilton and even the suburbs of Toronto have a very British look about them.
We also discovered that Alexander Graham Bell made the very first phone call from just outside of Hamilton. Hellloooo! 😂
There is a wonderfully huge diverse population in Hamilton. Immigrants are well taken care of and form a significant percentage of the population. When we arrived in Toronto airport I was really moved to see parents hugging refugee children and vice-versa who had obviously just arrived safely to be with them. The scenes of so many people crying with joy at their loved ones arriving safely from wherever they came was heart wrenching but also heartwarming to witness. Which brings me to the story of a day that we travelled by bus to a local supermarket in Hamilton. An elderly woman who was most definitely in her 80’s, with a hand knitted colourful hat and scarf on her was busily clicking away with her knitting needles and wool on the bus. A young boy sitting opposite her asked her what she was knitting. She kindly looked up and said to him, I’m knitting hats and scarves to keep the refugees that are due to arrive here soon warm from the coldness here. She explained to him that they were coming from hot countries and that she had another 300 hats and scarves to make before they arrived. What a valuable and beautiful lesson that little boy learned from that woman on the bus that day! Human beings are just fabulous in the main.
We ventured into the city of Toronto the following day. Top of our list of things to do was to take the tour to the top of the famous CN tour in the centre of Toronto. The highest building in the western world, standing at 553 meters above ground level, it’s not for everyone I admit. But when we got to the viewing points at 447 meters above ground, the view was nothing less than astounding. We could view the whole city of Toronto, and the frozen Lake Ontario with a Titanic-like iceberg look about it down below where the ships were docked. The high rise apartment buildings that span the city resemble “stickle brick” lego which leads me to think that the architect designing them may have had a love of “stickle brick” in his childhood and was trying to recreate stuff he’d made as a kid? With a few hours to spare before we took our bus back to Hamilton, we hit the Ripley’s Aquarium Centre, and saw living creatures in the water that ranged from beautiful to absolutely horrifically ugly looking specimens (and no, there were no mirrors🤪). An education for sure! But i found Nemo! And Twinkies!
Now part of our plan when we decided to visit Canada was to catch up with a friend of Colm’s and his wife who live not too far from Hamilton. Colm and Chris had spent time in California together on work trips and hadn’t seen each other for some time. I had never met Chris or Jen before this. I have to say, the day spent with them was the highlight of our trip! We hooked up with Chris and Jen on Saturday afternoon, and within less than a half an hour, I felt like i’d known them for years. We laughed hysterically for the whole afternoon. Chris and Jen kindly drove us from Hamilton to Niagara Falls and gave us a whole well informed tour of the area. It was beginning to get dark when we arrived at the falls and on stepping out of the car it took my eyes a couple of seconds to adjust to what I was seeing! Niagara Falls, pounding from the cliff above into the river below – I will never in my life, ever, forget the sound of the water rushing down and the sight of this wonder of nature! I have goose pimples even writing this. It really has to be seen to be appreciated and the photos I had seen in books and magazines beforehand certainly did not do it justice. Two waterfalls, one on the Canadian side (the horseshoe one that we are all familiar with seeing in photos) and the smaller, straighter waterfall on the USA border within a stone’s throw. As we stood there with our mouths open, a beautiful light show began on both waterfalls. With colours of the rainbow and the Canadian flag being cast across the horseshoe falls, and the American flag on the fall on the USA border. It is an out of world experience to watch that I cannot even begin to describe! And one that we needed a gin and raspberry cocktail and beers to reflect on and finish off such a wonderful day, as ya do.
And now, Irish Granny heads for the bright lights of New York, New York! One city closer to seeing Harry!!! 😱😱😱. If I can, make it there, I’ll make it anywhere…See ye soon y’all! (And the thermals will be coming off!…Start spreading the News 🙈🙈🙈).