Our Canadian Road Trip
Google maps tells us that driving from New York City to Toronto, Ontario will take approximately 9 hours. Daniel and I are young - we've done the "drive through the night" thing many times; but this time, we decided to split the drive up and hit some glorious sights along the way. Our long weekend in Canada looked like this:
On Wednesday night, after work, we left the city and drove four hours to Syracuse, New York; the next morning, we were ready to face the day! We drove two more hours and ended up at Niagara Falls. The first item on our itinerary was a quick stop on the ‘American side’ of Niagara Falls where we took a voyage on the ‘Maid of the Mist.’
With the wind whipping at our too-big ponchos and the freezing water pelting our face, it doesn’t seem like the ideal situation - but it was breath-taking. The boat goes so close to the falls! Close enough that you can only see the thundering, frothy water, the white mist piling out of its wake and - if you’re lucky - a gorgeous rainbow.
After the ‘American side’ of the falls, we crossed the border and found ourselves in Canada! We stopped to take a few more pictures, convert our American dollars into Canadian dollars, and then grab a (disappointing) dinner in the tourist-trap of a town. (We knew we should have kept driving to get dinner, but we were just so hungry! Our tip to you, however? Keep driving.)
The end of our day was spent driving the last two hours of our trip - though it actually became four hours thanks to traffic and an unforgiving thunderstorm. Once we arrived in Northern Toronto, we spent our time with family who were gracious enough to host us; a few glasses of wine and some fantastic time spent catching up later, and we were happy to call it a night.
Around 10am, we made the trek from Barrie, Ontario where we were staying with family, to Yorkdale Mall where we would catch the TTC Subway that would take us into the city. Finding parking at Yorkdale was a trip. We were trying to search for ‘commuter parking’ because we didn’t want to risk the mall towing our vehicle; but when a policewoman told us to park in the mall parking lot, we decided that that just must be what the locals do! We found a spot to leave the car, walked through the upscale mall and hopped onto the train.
One thing about the TTC that we found a bit bizarre is that, if you are purchasing a day pass, you don’t get a card to swipe or tokens to insert - you just get a punch card that you show the attendant at each station when you’re boarding. Yet, when you approach their turnstiles, you can see that they have the card swipe option, the token insert option, just plain cash options, the credit card tap option and the punch cards. It seems Toronto can’t make up its mind.
It was around 1pm when we finally made it downtown, and we went right to the CN Tower because - we’ll admit it - we were a little too nervous to do anything else. We were going to be spending our afternoon hanging off the side of the tallest structure in the Western Hemisphere, 116 stories above the ground. When we found the perfect break in the rainy weather, we jumped on the chance to do our Edgewalk! You can read our review of the Edgewalk here.
After the Edgewalk, we were high on adrenaline. We took advantage of the free passes that got us to the observation deck (but wow did that seem boring after what we had just done), then we decided to explore more of downtown. We made it through Dundas Square, the Nathan Phillips Square, City Hall and St. Lawrence Market. At the market, we shared a delicious hawaiian crepe, and chatted with a few locals who noticed our Edgewalk paraphernalia.
After the sun had set and we had checked off a full list of sights, we decided to grab dinner at The Host - an Indian restaurant my family had recommended to us. And boy was it delicious! The fine dining restaurant hosted dozens of traditional Indian dishes. Daniel and I went with the staples - chicken tandoori, chicken tikka marasala, garlic naan, green chile naan and kesari rice. It was a feast; just take a look at the photo below and you'll be scrambling to add The Host to your "must visit in Toronto" list. Then, with full tummies and achy feet, we finished Day #2.
We visited with family Saturday morning, then decided to drive into the city rather than deal with public transit. (After a quick survey on Friday, it seemed parking wasn’t going to be too difficult. We are used to finding parking in NYC, after all.) We spent the day exploring a quaint, hipster neighborhood that we took a real liking to: Kensington Market. There, we grabbed lunch at Burrito Boyz then grabbed an afternoon snack at Moo Frites. (Both were good, though I wouldn't necessarily sing their praises. However, some people have, because Moo Frites made #11 on this article that highlighted the 50 Things to Eat in Toronto Before You Die. And Daniel took quite a liking to it as well.) It snowed on Sunday, too! So I’m glad I was able to pick up an adorable, warm hat at Kensington Market.
Kensington Market stole our hearts. The stores were built in residential-seeming houses, and boasted kooky souvenirs and gifts. The crowd was full of well-dressed hipsters, and the restaurants all advertised their ‘organic,’ ‘locally-sourced’ ingredients. The entire neighborhood was colorful - each house we passed and outfit modeled was more colorful than the last. We left the neighborhood that day after agreeing on one thing: we could definitely see ourselves as Kensington Market locals one day.
A full day of exploration later, and we were back in the car, ready to begin the drive home. We wanted to cross the Canadian border and then spend the night in Upstate New York. We made one more stop stop at Niagara Falls, though, because Daniel knew I would love the nighttime falls. They light up with rainbow colors! Of course I would love that! We walked around the vicinity of the Horseshoe Falls, and took in the incredible sight of the colorful waters. It was a great end to the day, and a stop we definitely recommend.
We woke up in Upstate New York, and had a few stops planned for the ride home. We actually wanted to knock out a few errands (yay, Whole Foods!), but before we did that, we stopped at the Ithaca Farmer’s Market. Daniel and I had grown up with Farmer’s Markets - Pennsylvania has some of the best! But I do think I found myself a bit partial to this one. It was inside a giant, rustic barn that was about the length of a football field. There were strings of light hung up everywhere and a light snowfall outside, so the atmosphere was perfect. And all of the stands were selling high-quality, organic and local produce, meats and cheeses. We grabbed some kale and cauliflower, and some fresh apple cider. Then we decided to grab a quick lunch, and the decision was hard to make - there were a lot of ethnic cuisines split up between the different stands. This, I think, was what set it apart from most of the Farmer’s Markets you would visit in Pennsylvania. Whereas you can pick up some delicious pulled pork and chicken corn soup in Pennsylvania, Daniel and I opted for an authentic Ethiopian meal at the Ithaca Market. It was a colorful meal of beets, carrots and cabbage beside a delicious beef stew of sorts - I’d definitely get it again! For dessert, we grabbed some apple cider donuts, and then we were back on the road!
We made it back to the city around 9pm. But we had had a wonderful, photogenic, adrenaline-filled, delicious trek to Toronto and back - so we weren’t complaining! We had met some outrageously nice Canadians, rode a boat into a waterfall, got caught in our first snowfall of the season, fell in love with a new neighborhood and tried a daring stunt! In other words, some fantastic memories had been made. So we called it an early night and fell asleep almost immediately, exhausted but satisfied.