Monday, February 16, 2009

On The Wing

On The Wing - Owl City
(I took the photos myself from airplane windows)


Breathe and I'll carry you away into the velvet sky
And we'll stir the stars around and watch them fall away
Into the Hudson Bay and plummet out of sight and sound
The open summer breeze will sweep you through the hills
Where I live in the Alpine heights
Below the northern lights I spend my coldest nights alone awake
And thinking of the weekend we were in love
(The weekend we were in love)


Home among these mountain tops can be so awfully dull
A thousand miles from the tide
Put photos on the walls of New York shopping malls
Distract me so I stay inside


I wish the rocket stayed over the promenade
'cuz I would make a hook and eye
And fish them from the sky
My darling she and I were hanging on so take us high
To sing the world goodbye


I am floating away lost in a silent ballet
I'm dreaming you're out in the blue and I am right beside you
Awake to take in the view
Late nights and early parades
Still photos and noisy arcades
My darling we're both on the wing
Look down and keep on singing and we can go anywhere

Are you there
(Are you there)
(Are you there)
(Are you there)

Or are you just a decoy dream in my head
Am I home or am I simply tumbling out alone


I am floating away
(Floating away)
Lost in a silent ballet
(Silent ballet)
I'm dreaming you're out in the blue and I am right beside you
Awake to take in the view


Late nights and early parades
(Early parades)
Still photos and noisy arcades
(Noisy arcades)

My darling we're both on the wing look down and keep on singing
And we can go anywhere

Are you there
(Are you there)
(Are you there)
(Are you there)


Saturday, February 7, 2009

Day 3 in Toronto - Niagara Falls, Butterfly Conservatory, Clifton Hill, and Poutine!

We got up late on Friday morning and dawdled in the hotel room for a while. Today we were planning to drive to Niagara Falls where a friend of mine was going to join us for a day of sightseeing.

The drive to Niagara Falls from Toronto was nice. We drove along the Niagara Escarpment most of the way. This is a ~200 foot bluff that marks the edge of the Niagara limestone deposits. It's also the escarpment over which Niagara Falls cascades. We listened to our XM Satellite radio and found Howard Stern, so we listened to his show most of the way there. We made a quick stop at Wendy's to get breakfast / lunch and then I called Krista to let her know we'd be there soon.

Krista is a friend that I know through an internet chat site. When I told her that I would be visiting Toronto, she invited us to see Niagara Falls and get dinner with her and her mother, Ellie. It sounded like a great chance to meet a good friend and get a guided tour of the falls.

We met up with Krista and her mother at the Niagara Falls Butterfly Conservatory. It's the largest indoor butterfly conservatory in North America! We really liked it, and Isabelle kept commenting on how the smell and the air reminded her of home - Cameroon. They have thousands of butterflies enclosed in a greenhouse with rain forest plants and a waterfall and lagoon in the center. We appreciated the warm air and were able to get many photos of butterflies and each other with butterflies. Isabelle bought some souvenirs to hang on our walls back home to remind us of this experience.

From there we drove to the waterfall - Niagara Falls. There are actually two waterfalls, referred to as the American and Canadian falls. Most people say the view from the Canadian side is the best. We were able to get very close to the edge of the falls and I could actually see the limestone at the bottom of the river just before it cascades over the edge. The power of the water is magnificent and in February the ice around the falls and in the river below were an amazing sight. The mist created by the waterfall froze to everything nearby, creating ice sculptures and coating everything in thick layers of glaze.

We were very cold after being outside for a while so we drove to the top of Clifton Hill and walked down the street and back up again. Clifton Hill is a sort of touristy main street with wax museums and haunted houses. We got some pictures of the attractions and made our way to Kelsey's, a diner where we intended to order and eat Poutine, among other things.

Poutine is a Canadian comfort food made of french fries smothered in gravy and cheese curds. It's so simple but so tasty! I couldn't possibly eat it all along with the chicken I ordered, so we boxed up the poutine to eat later in the hotel. After dinner, we wandered over to the famous Timmy's (Tim Horton's) for a cup of coffee. The hot beverage was just what we needed to prepare for the drive back to Toronto and our last night in Canada. Back in the hotel room we were treated to a showing of the movie Strange Brew on television while I ate the leftover poutine with a glass of Riesling.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Day 2 in Toronto - Eaton Center, CN Tower, and Far Niente

We stayed up pretty late on Wednesday night watching Australia, so we slept late on Thursday morning. I woke up first, as usual. I spent a few hours watching TV and surfing the internet while Isabelle slept. When she woke up, we showered and walked through the underground PATH system to the Toronto Eaton Center, a shopping mall in the city center. PATH is 17 miles of underground walkways underneath downtown Toronto and is listed by Guinness as the world's largest underground shopping complex. In a city as cold as this, it makes sense! Without it we might have stayed in the hotel all day.

The Eaton Center is a large shopping mall in downtown Toronto. Isabelle and I really don't enjoy shopping together, but we both enjoy shopping. So we split up and agreed to met up later. I spent my time taking pictures of the mall and wandering through electronics stores while Isabelle looked at clothes and shoes. We met up in the afternoon and went to Baton Rouge Restaurant for lunch. It was recommended by a magazine in the hotel room as the best lunch in Toronto. I ordered a tuna salad and it was really good! Isabelle had a giant sandwich and two margaritas.

We walked back to the hotel and Isabelle was ready for a nap! I welcomed the chance to relax and surf the net while she snoozed. Two margaritas is a lot for Isabelle because she rarely drinks anything at all. This is vacation, though! I was reading about the best way to get to the CN Tower so we could drive over there after nap time.

The CN Tower is still North America's tallest man made structure, so it's impressive to go inside and ride the elevator to the top. We got the ticket that took us all the way to the highest observation deck. While you go up, you can see up the elevator shaft. From the top you can see all of Toronto! It was a clear afternoon and we showed up right as the sun was going down. I took a lot of pictures of the sunset and then we went back down to the gift shop. I picked up a Toronto hoodie and then we were ready to get back to the hotel and prepare for dinner.

I had reservations for dinner at Far Niente, a highly recommended restaurant in downtown Toronto. We got there a little late, but they were ready to accommodate us anyways. I started off with a half dozen Malpeque oysters and we shared a cheese fondue pot. My main was grilled salmon with mussels in a white sauce. Isabelle ordered the lobster pot pie. After getting back to the hotel I stayed up late again and chatted with some friends online. We were planning to meet my friend Krista and her mom in Niagara Falls on Friday so I was excited about that and couldn't sleep!

Finally after staying up and reading the newspaper in the bathtub to unwind I was able to get to sleep.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Day 1 in Toronto - St. Lawrence Market, Cambridge Suites Hotel, Canoe Restaurant

Another crazy "internet sale" came up on airfare to Toronto, Ontario. Isabelle had a few days off and I used some paid time off to take a mini-vacation for 4 days. On Feb 4th we left, packing our bags and catching a taxi for the Jefferson Park CTA station where we grabbed the "Blue Line" to O'Hare International Airport.

To me, this trip is becoming routine: explaining to the cab driver where to drop us off at the transit station, watching for the train on the platform in between the in and out-bound lanes on the expressway, rushing from the train to the security line. Once we got on the plane, it was delayed on the runway on account of a malfunctioning gauge. After about 20 minutes we took off for Toronto and I watched out the window as the great white north stretched out beneath me. Isabelle fell asleep a few minutes after take off and woke up a few minutes before landing. I don't know how she does it.

When we arrived in Toronto, we picked up our rental car in the airport and tried to get the GPS to tell us where to go. The rental car garage is under a stack of highway ramps, so the device could not get a signal from the satellites. I finally just decided to start driving away from the airport and hope for the best. Of course it finally got a sync and I was driving the wrong way. No problem, it guided us to the hotel where I checked in. After parking the car we unpacked our things in the room.

The hotel, Cambridge Suites in downtown Toronto, was very nice. We stayed in a "deluxe suite" which was actually their standard room. It was two main rooms, a bedroom and a living room, plus a large bathroom with a separate toilet / bath area. There was also a bar and sink in the living room and two 37-inch LCD televisions. I quickly found the internet connection and verified it worked to my liking, then fiddled with the TV for a while - mostly commenting on the accents and local advertisements to an unphased Isabelle.

It was 5 degrees F and windy, causing us all kinds of distress as we walked the few blocks to the indoor market. I had planned to visit a bakery in the Saint Lawrence Market where they serve a sandwich made with ham and mustard. It sounded so simple, the perfect thing after a (90 minute) flight. Unfortunately when we arrived at the market I found the bakery closed due to a death in the family. I settled for some Japanese food that turned out to be remarkably bad. That's okay, the market was really cool and I'm glad we went. They had "Indian Candy" and birch syrup. Indian candy is apparently smoked salmon cured in maple syrup. Too bad that place was also closed when we got there.

We went back to the room after only eating a small snack because I had made reservations earlier in the week for Canoe Restaurant. This is Chef Anthony Walsh's critically acclaimed restaurant on the 54th floor of the Toronto Dominion tower. The view was fantastic, but difficult to photograph on account of the lighting. The meal was spectacular. The food was small, but adequate for me. The presentation was beautiful and meticulous. The flavor was outstanding! After all that praise I must confess the price tag was not small. This meal came to around $180 CAD with a glass of wine for each of us and a shared appetizer.

After dinner, we drove around the lakefront a little but it was sooo cold we didn't want to get out of the car. We went back to the room and cranked up the heat. The movie Australia was available on the Pay Per View, so we bought that and watched it on the "bedroom" TV. It is a LONG movie but I really liked it! We went to bed with plans for shopping and eating our way across Toronto on Thursday.