North Atlantic Adventure: My last stop. Toronto for thanksgiving
by Anthony D. Cliffe
My North Atlantic adventure ends in Toronto where i visit my favourite Island and spend my first Canadian Thanksgiving with my amazing Canadian Family!
After a fantastic few days in Charlottetown I was heading to one of my favourite cities, Toronto! I’ve been to Toronto countless times and it never gets old, in fact I was there last April to visit family before heading across the country to visit more family in Edmonton. To me that’s what Toronto is, it’s about the family that is there and how unbelievably welcoming and awesome they all are. After such a long and epic solo journey it felt very fitting to end it with my Canadian cousins. When I was looking for hotels I noticed that hotel prices in Toronto for the three days were almost the price of all of my hotels combined on this trip. It was only when Barb my cousin was so happy that I was over for thanksgiving and told me I should stay with them for it, did I realise it was Thanksgiving weekend! We don’t have such a thing in the UK and Canadian Thanksgiving is on a different day to the Yank’s one. I like the idea of Canadian thanksgiving, if I understand it correctly it’s about giving thanks for the harvest before the long cold winter ahead. It’s all about family and spending time with them with some great food. So again a fitting end to the trip! I was super excited to stay and be with my cousins again. We may live thousands of miles apart but the bond has always been there and it felt after this trip it was closer than ever. I am proud of my Canadian roots and they’re proud of their British ones. They are so incredibly welcoming and so totally on my wavelength with humour and outlook on things.
So while I boarded my very large plane for such a small airport I was away into the air leaving P.E.I behind. I was flying on Air Canada Rouge which gets a bad rap but those people have never flown Ryanair, so Air Canada Rouge is like first class compared to them! After a 2 and a half hour flight I touched down into the wonderful city of Toronto. Last time I landed here I was greeted by Dave my Cousin’s Husband who gave me a tour of the airport and let me sit in the cockpit of an A380 which can be found here Canada Travels: Blog 2 – Airport escort and Toronto Islands. I had great memories as I collected my bag and jumped on the train into the city. After spending a few weeks in small cities in the Maritimes, just like last year as soon as I exited the train station I had to stand in awe at the towering buildings, the noise, the smells, the colours. A world away from all the places I had been to on this trip. No fresh air and green mountains here. I was clearly still on maritime island time which was chilled and relaxed. In Toronto, like every city, everyone is in a rush. Especially trying to get home for Thanksgiving weekend.
As it was late afternoon I didn’t want to disturb my cousins so I booked my hotel for the one night before staying with them for the weekend. Part of the reason for that was I fell in love with the Toronto Islands last year on my visit and I wanted to go back again but I also came for a picture (which sadly I never got properly!). In our living room we have a large panoramic of the Toronto skyline at sunset taken from Snake Island, the Island I found last year. So I wanted to add that to my photo collection by getting one myself. I checked into my hotel, the Double Tree Hilton Downtown, which I stayed in last year. I still love the personalised welcome cookie on arrival and the rooms are huge! I freshened up, grabbed my camera gear and headed out into the chaos that is a major city in North America. No Photographer can shoot on an empty stomach though so I stopped for an amazing teriyaki glazed steak for tea!
After that I walked down to the harbour and paid $6 for the ferry across Lake Ontario to the Islands. It was so much quieter this time in late afternoon than when I visited here in April, it was peaceful. It still amazes me a 10 minute ferry ride and the city skyline looms behind you but it’s so peaceful and fresh with nothing but the gentle waves and the birds chirping. Once the ferry had pulled up I set off to find the little unmarked track through the woods I found last year to get to Snake Island.
They’d had some bad flooding a few weeks before and you could tell. The amazing bench and trees were washed away and it looked less than idyllic than it did over 12 months ago. But, the fallen washed away tree made for a great foreground for my shot.
I waited as the sunset and sadly it never gave me the colours I was hoping for so I guess I’ll just have to come back! I loved the hours I spent just taking pictures, watching night fall and the lights coming on across the water, no one around just complete serenity. I love this place so much!
By time night had fallen I packed my gear up and jumped on one of the last ferries of the night. The ride across the water with the skyscrapers looming and reflecting their lights in the heat of the night is special and certainly nothing like it here in the UK. After a walk back to the hotel I grabbed a shower and went straight to sleep. Another brilliant day ticked off on this trip.
The next morning after a Tim Hortons breakfast I jumped on the train to head back to the airport where my cousin Scott and his Wife Katrina offered to pick me up and take me out for the day. You can tell we’re related as Scott is an avgeek like me and we both love military stuff so a day was planned to visit Hamilton air museum, Canada’s version of Duxford or Hendon and then onwards to Haida a Canadian Warship. What a fantastic day out that was! I had such a laugh and a great time with both of them. Hamilton is a fantastic place to visit with so many different aircraft types and brilliant exhibitions. What I love about this place is nearly all of the aircraft are flyable and unlike in the UK, you can pay a few thousand dollars and go up in some of them! The Canadian’s have the only other flying Lancaster bomber in the world alongside us and it’s based here. I was so lucky to see them both flying when they brought it over a few summers ago and to see it in its home base was very special.
After there we drove to walk around Haida, a fantastic floating ship of many wars! It was really cool to go around and appreciate what these guys went through in such conditions. I wish we had something like this other than HMS Belfast in London, Liverpool could take Haida as an example of how to do it!
After that I had one of the best burgers I’ve ever had before we visited the Merchant Navy memorial. We have very close ties to MN from both sides of the Atlantic with many family members having served and it was a real pleasure to see my great Uncle Wals ships listed. I still miss him and Audrey a lot and I know they would both be looking down with a big smile on their faces to see both sides of the Atlantic family being so close together!
After the long drive back I arrived at my Cousin Barb’s house and dropped my bags off and we were off to a house party of one of their friends. Oh how the Canadian’s live! Everyone has a pool because they get the weather and I wish we had that lifestyle but the UK just does not cater for it! Considering it was October, it was till in the 20’s by night. I don’t think that has ever happened in the UK past August! That was a fun night catching up with Barb, Dave, Betsy and Erin. It’s so hard for me to express how much I loved being there with these guys and how happy I was to see them all again!
The next morning me, Barb and Erin went hiking with the dogs. Erin’s dog, Sevvy is the size of an actual horse. He is huge but what a wonderful dog. Those who know me know I’m not a dog person, give me a cat any day of the week but by the end of the trip I wanted to take him home with me! The hike through the escarpment was spectacular and again I am jealous they have all of this on their doorstep!
One of my absolute favourite parts of this trip though was sitting down with coffee, breakfast and just chatting to Barb and Betsy about their dad Wal. He is the reason we have this half Canadian Half British family and he was loved by everyone. He was such a wonderful guy and it was a real pleasure talking about him and swapping stories and for me, hearing some new exploits about his time during the war and how lucky he was at times. It was just great to sit down and chat and it to not feel like I was on holiday. It felt great to catch up and share stories of back home and plans here. Even the simple things like going on a drive to the shops with my cousin Erin. Moments I treasure because I don’t get them every day and it’s always a laugh and I just loved it. Although saying that, I don’t think I’d ever understand how Canadian supermarkets work! They’re not laid out logically to my UK mind!!
This all came together on my first thanksgiving day. I must thank Barb and co for some excellent food and them being so accommodating for my lactose intolerance! I know its a bloody hassle and they made no fuss about it all! What I loved about thanksgiving though was not only spending it with them but I got to see my other cousins too, Bob and Robin and their Daughters Becky and Sarah. It was also great to meet Mark for the first time too! Last time I was in Canada was the first time I had ever met them and their wonderful families and once again I was made to feel so welcome! They’re all absolutely amazing people from their kids to their partners and I loved seeing them all again. I particularly relished the sparing of wit between me and Dave!
After wonderful food and company it was time to leave and I was super sad to say goodbye to everyone again. Canada is like home for me and like any place it’s the people in it who make it so special. I am forever grateful for everyone who made me so welcome again and so accommodating on my visit in Toronto and for family who drove for hours to come see me or take me out places. While we may have a giant ocean that sits between us I feel the bond between us all is as strong as ever and while I was sad on the car ride back to the airport, again thanks to Betsy for taking time out of her day to drive me all the way to the airport, I was happy to know our Anglo-Canadian relationship is as strong as ever. I can only hope to see them all over here one day when I can repay their kindness and hospitality! It really was tough to say goodbye to them all.
Like last year, I was gutted and sad to say goodbye to family as I headed back home but again, it offered me one last amazing gesture. Last year I got on the plane and got upgraded to First class and I enjoy a lie flat bed, champagne and steak! The odds of that happening again were incredibly small. Well, I guess Canada loves to send me on my way in style. I check in and the check-in girl upgrades me again to first class for my flight back to Iceland! Flying back in first class does lessen the blow of leaving a brilliant few weeks of travel.
I had the front row to myself in first class and I enjoyed my 12 a.m., 4 hour flight across the Atlantic to Iceland. A quick hour wait in Iceland I got on my connecting Icelandair flight to Manchester, 2 and a bit hours later I was finally home after what was a truly superb holiday. I had walked on glaciers and volcanoes, I had stood and watched nature at its finest under the dazzling spectacular of the Northern Lights, I had climbed mountains on rocky outcrops of the North Atlantic, I had fallen in love on P.E.I and saw sunsets that have yet to be beaten and I had closer ties with my Canadian family than ever before. What a truly fantastic adventure it was and memories and stories I will cherish forever. It really was one big North Atlantic Adventure.
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Avgeek Videos of this leg of the trip: