Posts Tagged ‘Canada’

Toronto – Niagara Falls

Friday, August 20th, 2010

We were not in a hurry to get going this morning – particularly after a late end to the time we spent with Barb, Victor and their two beautiful girls.

We left the hotel around 11.00 and  drove back through the city but only after picking up the compulsory Starbucks morning heart starter!

The traffic heading south was rather chaotic.  It was a Sunday and it is a big city however, we didn’t expect it to be as busy as it was.  The estimated drive time to Niagara falls was around one and a half hours however we soon came to the realisation that this was not going to be the case today.   It seemed that most of Toronto was heading for Niagara Falls.  This seemingly mass exodus and the large number of roadwork spots made for a slow trip.  Having said that, there were quite a few “boy racers” out in their low flying Japanese sports cars and they were in a hurry to get somewhere.  They ignored the very low speed limits and drove like they were filming a car chase in a Hollywood movie!  If the three to four lanes were not enough then the service lanes were negotiated at speeds that denied belief.

After about 3 hours we arrived in Niagara Falls, ON.  Barb and Victor had recommended that we stay on the Canadian side of the falls so we booked a room online at the Days Inn.  It was a good choice.  The room was well appointed and close to everything that we came to see and experience

After sorting ourselves out and changing into something more comfortable we, grabbed some camera gear and went in search of some the Falls.  Finding the access steps down to the falls was not as easy as one would expect given that this is a tourist haven.  However, we persisted, and arrived on the promenade as the light was starting to fade – not a bad thing for photography.

We took a lot of photo’s of the incredible falls and took in the wonderful atmosphere of this natural wonder.  The temperature was perfect for walking along the top of the cliffs that the Niagara River has made of the years.

We did not take the tripod on the first outing in Niagara so as the light faded we called it quits for the photography and started the walk back to the motel.

The walk back took us through the very “tourist centric” area of Niagara Falls – an area that is set up for all things “touristy” and not a place we had any desire to spend time in.  In short is was “cheap and cheesy” and it didn’t appeal to our senses.

However, we did find a wonderful Mexican “cantina” on the trip back to the hotel and we opted to dine in this wonderful little place before returning to the motel.  The food was excellent, the paintings on the walls were worth photographing and the hostess was a lovely elderly lady that made our evening dining experience a lot of fun.

Our late’ish supper was “walked off” during the stroll back to the motel and after unpacking our camera gear we dropped into the very comfortable bed around 11.00pm.  A very nice first day in Niagara Falls.

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Niagara Falls – Day 2

Sunday, August 15th, 2010

We rose a little later this morning – the bodies needed to slow down a bit after a few days on the go. With a couple of late nights and a few early starts it was time to honour ourselves and stay in bed for a little longer.

After getting ourselves ready for a day of touring around Niagara Falls we walked across the road and ate breakfast at an “all you can eat buffet”.  We don’t eat much for breakfast and this morning was no exception.  I think we would have been better to eat in the room or somewhere else.  The meal was pretty average breakfast when it was all said and done.  However, we achieved the aim of placing something in our stomachs so we figured that this was a good start to the day.

The plan for today was to “shoot and video” the falls and some of the surrounds so after cleaning our camera gear in the room we headed out in search of a Starbucks – not too hard to find in Niagara!  Our “mission” was accomplished after a short walk from the hotel.

It was nice to sit down for a while in Starbucks and during our time there The Princess and I reviewed some of the basic lessons we had learned during our recent photography courses.  I was able to help The Princess with some of the “exposure triangle” considerations and she took some shots of me to consolidate these lessons.

We started off our walk today by taking in a very low density tourist area and this walk took us past the beautiful Carmalite College and Spiritual Centre then down the “long way” to the botanic gardens area before walking to Dufferin Islands – a small island group that sits on the southern side of the Niagara River.

From Dufferin Island we walked back along river bank and past the old hydro’ power stations.  With no particular agenda we enjoyed videoing and photographing the sights and sounds along the river bank and of the river itself.

We arrived back at the area of “Journey Behind The Falls” and took some time out to enjoy a nice feed of sushi in the dining area.  We had returned to the “tourist center” of Niagara Falls and it was rather crowded in this tourist attraction venue – to be expected in summer!

After lunch we walked along the top of the cliff top and down to the Maid of The Mist for an “up close and personal” journey to the base of Niagara Falls.  Fortunately the lines were not too long so after about 30 minutes we were boarding the boat for what turned out to be a very wet view of the falls.

We shot quite a bit of video of our experience of being under (literally) the falls and you can take a look at it on our video gallery.  Needless to say, we ended up very wet despite having raincoats on and taking precautions with our gear.  Part of the fun – an it was a lot of fun!

After drying out a bit we decided to go and sit in the sun at a nearby Starbucks.  Again, we didn’t have any agenda so we enjoyed sitting in the sun and drying off the remainder of our damp clothes.

The Starbucks we chose was located at the base of the Skylon Tower and we had decided to take the trip to the top of the tower for some “bird’s eye” views of the falls and the surrounding area.  The lovely girl in the boot (Samantha) provided an excellent service and before we knew it we were on our way to the top of the highest point in these parts.

The views from the top of the tower were spectacular and we were glad that we had carried an array of lenses with us in the camera bag.  We had a great time swapping of lenses and taking a lot of photos as the sun dipped down lower in the western sky. I had borrowed a friend’s fish eye lens for the summer vacation and came in very handy for the bird’s eye shots from the tower.  You can take a look at some of our shots on our Flickr gallery.

From the Skylon tower we walked back to the hotel through the casino – a relatively short walk considering the distance we had covered during the course of the day.

After a quick change and freshen up we headed across the road to My Cousin Vinnys – an Italian restaurant that had a great street appeal.  We were not disappointed with our choice of dining establishment.  The service was excellent and the live music made for a great backdrop to the fantastic food and tasty wine.   We really enjoyed our night out – a warm summer night with great music, excellent food and, of course, a stunning dining partner!

The short walk (across the road) had us back at the hotel around 10.30pm.  We took time to pack our suitcases and “regroup” for our early morning departure tomorrow.

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Sunday Cruisin’

Sunday, August 8th, 2010

When we looked out the window the morning it appeared that the weather was going to remain kind to us for our second day of riding the Hog.  Today’s plan included booking our aircraft hire for Thursday, a foothills tour, a visit to the resting place of The Princess’ Dad, Grandad and Gran’ and some lunch in a small town called Okotoks – a full day to say the least.

After breakfast in the hotel we drove over to Mum’s place and prepared the Hog for the day out.  Jill looked on in amusement (though a little less worried today) as we unloaded the hire car and loaded the Hog.  Who would have thought that a motorbike could carry so many things!

With The Princess on the back I fired up the big V-twin once more and headed off on the same route as yesterday – skirting around the city and along the “trans Canadian”.  However, instead of continuing all the way out to Banff we turned off at Springbank and made our way to the Springbank airport.

I had promised The Princess that I would take her flying over the Rockies during our time in Calgary and to achieve this I needed to find a place that would hire an aircraft to me.  We took a look around the small airfield and selected an flying school called  Springbank Air Training College, a professional looking establishment on the main road leading into the airport.

After parking the Harley we went inside and took a look around the school, asked a lot of questions and booked a check ride and hire for Thursday 12th.  The staff were friendly and very helpful and before we knew it we were back on the bike and heading for the nearby town of Cochrane.

The road leading out to Cochrane (known as “The Cowboy Trail” – Hwy 22) is one of those roads you could ride on all year long.  It is smooth, cambered correctly and wide enough to ride safely should someone decide to crossover onto the wrong side of the road.  Well done Alberta!

The ride from Springbank to Cochrane takes about 15 minutes and it ends with a lovely descent into the Bow Valley and down into the small but quaint town.  Apart from wanting to put some miles on the Hog we went to Cochrane in search of a coffee.  The town is big enough to support the a Starbucks and it wasn’t long before our noses sniffed out the familiar smell of a Starbucks shop.  With bike parked and locked we entered the shop, found a nice seat and settled into our standard morning brews – cafe latte and chai tea latte.  Mmmmmm……

I was keen to get back onto the blacktop of Hwy 22 so after downing our brews we saddled up the big V-twin and road the reverse part of the trip we had just taken.  However, this time we kept heading south, over the trans-Canada and down toward Bragg Creek.  As we headed deeper into the foothills the clouds became lower in the sky and off to the west there were visible signs of rain – bugger!  Not to be perturbed we continued along the Cowboy Trail south and took in the beautiful vistas that presented at each bend of the road.

The rain kept moving toward us from the west so we opted to let discretion be the “better part of valour” and pull over to don our wet weather gear – I couldn’t have my Princess getting wet (or me).  This turned out to be a good move because the rain came down quite heavy for the remainder of our ride to the little church in Millarville – the place where The Princess’ Grandpa and Gran are buried.

We pulled off Hwy 549 and into the pebble covered drive of the Millarville church just as the rain started to slow down – it must have been a sign!  The sound of the bike’s hot engine hissed with each rain drop that fell on it and it seemed that this was the only noise being made in the quiet of the afternoon air.  We said “g’day” to Grandpa and Gran and spent some time taking a look around the beautiful grounds before getting back on the road to Black Diamond.

The rain was still falling (but not as heavily) as we rode the short distance to Black Diamond.  The Princess’ Dad (Frank) is buried in the hillside cemetery in Black Diamond and we had to take the bike there for him to have a look at!  Frank was an Indian man at heart however he would have been happy to see The Princess arrive on a bike.  Negotiating the slippery and, at times, steep unsealed road up to the cemetery was interesting but we arrived unscathed and said hello to Frank.  The views from the cemetery back over the valley are beautiful and it was nice to stop and take in the vistas in the presence of Frank.

The not so thirsty engine of the hog needed to be fed with some more fuel so we rode down to Turner Valley and filled up the tank before joining Hwy 7 for the short ride east to Okotoks for a mid afternoon lunch – our own tanks needed to be topped up!

The ride back to Calgary from Okotoks takes around 30 minutes and the road is smooth and dual lane the whole way.  Perfect.  This was to be the last “open road” ride for the weekend and we were not in hurry to get the bike back to Jill’s place.  I took the Deerfoot Trail (“the long way”) and soaked up the very pleasant views as we headed north back to the city.

With the thumping sound of the EVO engine silenced once more the bike was unpacked and secured in the backyard at Jill’s.  What a wonderful day out!

After sharing our day of travels with Jill we headed back to the hotel, freshened up and drove down to Chinook Mall.  We had planned to take in a movie at the cinema however, when we arrived we learned that the times were not going to work out.  Bugger!

Plan B?  A light supper and some wine on the outdoor deck of Chop – a very nice restaurant on the outside of the mall.  The temperature was a little on the low side but the gas heaters took some of the bite out of the air and the red wine warmed us up on the inside.  We shared a couple of starters for dinner due to the late lunch in Okotoks.  A very nice way to finish up a day of riding!

Our very satisfied bodies fell into bed at the Travelodge and before long we were fast asleep.  A great day indeed!

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Hogging The Rockies

Saturday, August 7th, 2010

We were rather excited about making the most of the weekend hire of the Harley and we were keen to mount the hog and get on the wide open roads out to the Rockies.  This combination meant that we were up and ready to go around 0700 this morning.  The weather was shaping up to be perfect for riding.  Few clouds, light winds and no sign of rain.  Perfect.

After taking in another “standard” breakfast in the hotel dining room we sorted out our riding gear and took the short drive to Mum’s place.  I readied the bike while The Princess readied the gear we were taking.  The large pannier bags and big luggage storage area on the Ultra Glide meant that we could pack enough gear to cover most eventualities.

With the gear and ourselves on board I fired up the big V-twin, waved goodbye to Mum and let the neighborhood know that there was a Harley departing Jill’s house!

It wasn’t long before we were on the relatively quiet roads heading out of Calgary and despite some roadworks for the new C-train line we were joining the trans-Canada highway in no time.

The big touring Harley ate up the blacktop and with The Princess settling into the armchair like seating I set the cruise control and let the hog breathe.  Ah…… what a feeling.  There is something very special about being exposed to the environment and a big touring bike.

We had set our sights on the town of Canmore as the first stop.  We knew that there was a Starbucks in the village and this was going to be a perfect way to compliment the cool temperatures.  The bike moved along the highway effortlessly and before long the turn off for Canmore appeared in our visors.

At low speed a big bike needs to be respected and so it was when we entered the carpark in the shopping centre in Canmore.  I have dropped bikes in the past and it is never a good thing.  Firstly, you can get hurt but generally you just embarrass yourself and need to get some assistance to stand the bike up again.  Fortunately I seemed to have learned my lesson and we arrived safely out the front of Starbucks.

We warmed our insides up with a nice “brew”, emptied the bladders then remounted the beast for the short ride to Banff.

During the next part of the ride The Princess decided to video some of the scenery as we rode along the highway.  She did a very nice job considering the noise and slipstream effects.  You can take a look at her efforts here (Harley Riding).

We had to wait in line for a while at the Banff National Park entrance.  Being a Saturday and being summer meant that tourist and Calgary locals were keen to get out and explore the beautiful Rockies.  However, it didn’t delay us for too long and, besides, sitting on a big shiny bike on a beautiful summer day is perfect!  The Princess took some really nice photo’s of us while we were waiting in line and you can check some of them out here (Calgary – 2010).

After entering the park we rode the short distance to Lake Minnewanka.  We have been to this beautiful lake many times and it is always great to return.  We parked the bike in a safe place and took a walk down to the lake’s edge.  The tiny squirrels were very active and we enjoyed taking some photo’s of them.  Unfortunately the general visibility wasn’t that good (fire in British Columbia) so we were not able to take nice scenery photo’s.  However, we have plenty of these shots from previous visits.

From Minnewanka we rode into Banff township.  We passed a lot of native deer along the way – glad we didn’t have any of them walking out in front of us!

We found a convenient place to park the bike and went in search of a place to dine for lunch.  The very touristy tourist town was very busy however we found a nice outdoor place to dine and settled in for an hour or so.  Watching the “moving sidewalk”, reliving our trip out from Calgary and watching other bikes come and go was a nice way to pass the time as we ate.

We weren’t in a hurry to get back into Calgary.  The sun stays up until 10.30pm so getting back before the sun went down wasn’t a concern.  However, we had promised Mum that we would dine with her tonight so after a lazy lunch we strolled via some shops and back to the bike.

The trip back to Calgary was another beautiful experience – wide open spaces, the Rocky mountains as a backdrop, the thumping sound of a Harley under our bums and being together on a beautiful summer’s day.  Does it get much better?

Our almost compulsory afternoon Starbucks was taken at the Starbucks store located in the suburb of Tuscany (located on the NW outskirts of Calgary).  The Princess lived in this area before moving to Hong Kong and she was interested to take a look at the recent expansion of the suburb.

From Tuscany we made our way back across the city to Jill’s place and put the bike to bed for the night.  Jill was happy to see us back safe and sound.

Our choice of dining establishments for this evening’s fare was The Keg Steakhouse and Bar on Macleod Trail.  The food and service here is very good and it was nice to dine out with Mum.  Again, we took quite a lot of our supper home with us (or at least Jill did – she inherited ours) when we left.  The Keg is worth a visit if you are in North America.

We dropped Mum home around 11.00pm and headed back to The Travelodge for a well earned night of rest.  What a wonderful day!

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Taking In Glemore and Picking Up The Hog

Friday, August 6th, 2010

We were in need of a bit of fitness today so after dining in the hotel we sorted ourselves out and headed off for Glemore Reservoir for a walk.  This man made reservoir dams the Elbow river and forms part of the water supply and flood mitigation for Calgary.  The pathway around the reservoir provides and excellent bike and footpath access around the whole waterway.

The Princess and I sauntered along the pathway for about an hour and took time to take some photo’s and skip some stones along the water.   We started our walk near Heritage Park (one of Calgary’s tourist attractions) and we enjoyed watching the parks old paddle steamer negotiate the reservoir near where we were walking.  A very nice way to pass an hour or two.

We shared a tasty Subway roll for lunch then headed off for Kane’s Harley to pick up the “steed”.  The bike, a brand new 2010 Electra Glide Ultra Classic was being returned around 2.00pm and we were due to pick it up around 3.00pm.  Keen to get back on the “hog” we arrived at the dealership a little early so we could take a look around and to get the juices flowing.

The staff at Kanes were wonderfully helpful and before we knew it we were trying on some safety gear and sorting out the paperwork.  We weren’t happy with the rental safety gear so we decided to purchase some brand new helmets and some gloves – never willing to risk one’s head!

We chose some really nice helmets and gloves and after about an hour we were ready to pay for them.  The young assistant that processed our payment accidentally put an extra zero into the keypad of the amount we were due to pay and the machine didn’t display the amount when I entered my PIN.  When I signed the receipt I realised she had overcharge me to the tune of $CAD 9000!  The poor girl was so embarrassed but we told her it wasn’t a problem and to just cancel it and try again.  However, when she went to cancel it she couldn’t.  A long story short – we took the Harley and our riding gear and they worked on the debt issue.  I figured that we had a hog worth a lot more than $9000 so it was all fair!

I rode the beautiful machine back to Mum’s place and The Princess followed me in the car.  It felt great to be back on a bike again.  I owned a Tour Glide Ultra Classic when I lived in Australia so the bike wasn’t new to me however, it had been some time since I rode.  I took it easy (for about 5 minutes) but enjoyed opening up the injectors a bit when pulling away from the lights!

We were able to get the bike through the narrow side gate at Mum’s house and park it in the backyard – a little more secure this way.  The bike had a nice security system on it but I wasn’t prepared to leave it parked out on the road for the night.

With the bike securely parked for the night we thanked Mum, said our goodbyes and returned to the hotel to get ready for a night out “in town”.

We decided earlier that we would take in some of the city nightlife on 4th Street Downtown.  This lovely little area of the city has some great restaurants located along the “strip” so we decided to be adventurous and find one that “took our fancy”.

Finding a parking spot was rather easy (Calgary never seems to get busy) and before we knew it we were treading the pavement in search of a place to dine.  Being a Friday night meant that most places were rather busy but there was room for two in most.

We settled on Mercato – a interesting deli style Italian place on the south side of the street.  The atmosphere was unique and, despite being a bit noisy, we enjoyed the ambiance.  The food, wine and service was excellent and, like most places in North America, we took some of our supper home with us when we left.

With a desire to get up early and get on the hog for a ride out to the Rockies we retired at a reasonable hour (albeit that it was still light outside) and drifted off to sleep easily.  Life’s very good.

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Cowtown Day 1

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

Despite not knowing which timezone I was in, we woke up at “feeding” time and got ourselves sorted out for breakfast downstairs.  The dining room in the hotel is simple however, the breakfast on offer was more than we would eat at home.  This is always a challenge – not to eat just because it is laid out before you.  To assist us in making the “right choice” the size of the majority of our dining partners convinced us that we only needed the continental version of what was on offer.  Like a lot of other western nations Canada’s population is not only growing older but substantially larger!

We weren’t able to pick up a rental car yesterday because a recent hailstorm that swept through Calgary caused damage to a lot of rental cars (and private cars) and the company we chose didn’t have any vehicles.   However, this morning we were able to arrange for a car through Enterprise and they even came to the hotel and picked us up.  They gave us a very good rate for the week long hire and the car that we were given was brand new – nice!  To add to the bonuses, the car was red and we know that they always go faster.

With the car sorted we headed of for Kane’s Harley Davidson in downtown.  I had previously arranged for the weekend hire of a Electra Glide Ultra Classic Harley and we had to drop down to the shop to arrange the paperwork and confirm that the bike was indeed available.  Finding the shop was relatively easy although we did manage to circumnavigate a little of the area.

Craig, the guy that looks after the rentals for Kane’s was very helpful and before we knew it we had the paperwork sorted and the bike confirmed.  However, before we were able to leave the shop I had a lot of dribbling to do so we spent time checking out the bikes and accessories (nothing like a bit of dream building).

After Kane’s we checked ourselves into the nearest Starbucks and topped up the caffeine (for me) and tea (for The Princess) reserves before heading back out to the airport.  Leaving so soon?  No.  The other admin’ that needed completing for today was the formal application for my Foreign License Validation Certificate for my pilot’s license.  My other plan for the Calgary visit is to take The Princess flying and I need to get my Australian license validated before I can fly in Canada.  So, it was off to the airport in search of the local office of Transport Canada.  Easier said than done.  Calgary airport is geographically spread out over a large area and, you guessed it, we went to the wrong area initially.  After quite a bit of driving around (read wasting time) we finally gave in and called the office for instructions.  Ah…. who would have guessed – the office was on the other side of the airfield (quite a distance away).

The staff at Transport Canada were very helpful and after handing over $CAN45.00 and submitting the paperwork we were on our way (correct way this time) back into town with a promise that the certificate would be ready on Monday – very efficient.

We downed some tasty Subway (eat fresh!) for lunch and then went “window” shopping in the local Glendeer Circle Shopping Mall.  I picked up a very nice jacket that will come in handy for riding the Harley this weekend and The Princess walked away with a nice pair of hiking shorts.  We also picked up a holder for my Nokia X6 phone so we can use the GPS function for our upcoming driving holiday on the east coast.

The Princess’ sister, Diane, lives about 20 mins east of Calgary in a small town called Langdon and this was the focus of our attention for the evening.  Uncle David and Aunt Sandra had an appointment with 5 children and their Mum and Dad.  Diane recently moved in with Scott and today was the first time that I met Scott and his three children and also the first time (for this visit) that I got to catch up with Diane, Aidan and Ciara.

The drive out to Langdon is is quite scenic – flat paddocks with canals running through them and, at this time of the year, the yellow flowered rape seed as far as the eye can see.  Occasionally the landscape is broken up by oil well pumps (Alberta is renown for its oil and gas).

We arrived at Diane and Scott’s place around 1600 and spent a very pleasant afternoon wearing down the kids (or maybe that was the other way around?), playing with the very active dog and downing a couple of cold beers with Scott and Diane.  We “dined in” with some take away from the local pub and saw the evening out by getting the kids to bed at a reasonable hour.

The Princess and I arrived back at the hotel around 2300 and it wasn’t long before we were scanning the inside of our eyelids – ah…… timezone changes and an afternoon of running around a backyard with excited children.

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